Why is James Madison called the Dukes? Explaining the nickname origin, presidential mascot history

James Madison University is named eponymously to honor the fourth president of the United States, James Madison.

Madison was instrumental in shaping the early American government. He was so involved in the creation and promotion of the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights that he became known as “The Father of the Constitution.”

That has left basketball fans enjoying the school’s run at the 2024 NCAA Tournament asking a key question. Why is James Madison referred to as the Dukes?

It’s a fair question to ask. Madison himself may have shuddered at the mention of a Duke, considering its connection to British royalty; Madison fought against the British during the American Revolution and the War of 1812 — where he became the first American president to lead his troops in combat.

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But James Madison University’s mascot name has nothing to do with the original meaning of the word “Duke.” Instead, it pays homage to one of the school’s leaders.

Why is James Madison called the Dukes?

James Madison’s athletic teams are referred to as the Dukes to honor former university president Samuel P. Dukes, per the school’s official website.

Dukes was the president of James Madison — then known as Madison College — from 1919 to 1949. He oversaw a major expansion of the university, including the admission of men into it after World War II at the request of the Veterans Administration.

In 1947, the first iteration of the James Madison men’s basketball team was formed. They told Dukes that they would name their team after him if he provided towels and equipment for the team. He obliged, and that’s how the “James Madison Dukes” came to be.

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What is Duke the Dog?

While Dukes was the namesake for James Madison’s athletic programs, the team eventually developed a need for a mascot to “generate spirit,” per the school’s website. That led to the creation of Duke the Dog.

The idea for Duke the Dog came from Dr. Ray V. Sonner in the 1970s. He posited that the school should use an English Bulldog as its mascot, as that would be the stereotypical pet for an English royal.

Duke the Dog was then created and featured as a cartoon on the cover of the 1972-73 men’s basketball media guide. Soon after, James Madison adopted a real bulldog to play the role of Duke.

To this day, Duke the Dog is James Madison’s mascot. A statue of him was erected on campus in 2005.

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What are James Madison’s women’s teams mascots?

For those wondering, James Madison’s women’s teams are also known as the Dukes. They were once known as the Duchesses — a nickname that originated at the same time as the Dukes moniker — but the university eventually decided all its teams would be the Dukes in 1982.

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