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Division I university on the verge of a name change

Recent years have seen a number of schools and teams change their names in an effort to adapt to modern sensibilities. The Washington football team is now, uh, the Washington Football Team. Several high schools named after Robert E. Lee have been re-christened.

A university in St. George, Utah, is soon to join that list. That university's name is Dixie State.

The obvious question here is, "Why does a university in St. George, Utah, call itself Dixie State?" A university in Utah harkening back to the Old South makes as much sense as a school in Mississippi naming itself the University of New England, a school in Illinois going by Northwestern, or a university in Texas calling itself Midwestern State. (Those last two may be poor examples.)

So, where does the name come from? It's a common enough question that a "How We Got Our Name" tab appears in About section on the school's website.

Why did they use the name “Dixie”? It was the result of the community’s aspiration. The name “Dixie” was already used to identify the area. 

Okay, so in 1913 the school, a high school at that time, changed its name from St. George Stake Academy to Dixie Academy to reflect the name of the area of southwest Utah in which it resided. But where does that name come from?

In short, because the area was settled by travelers from the South who found the area's soil compared favorably to their homeland.

Already the settled area of the Virgin Valley was being called Utah's "Dixie." The fact that cotton would grow there, as well as tobacco and other semi-tropical plants such as the South, produced made it easy for the name to stick. The fact that the settlers at Washington were bona fide Southerners who were steeped in the lore of cotton culture—many of them, at least—clinched the title. Dixie it became, and Dixie it remained. ... The name "Dixie" is one of those distinctive things about this part of Utah ... It is a proud title.

Whether it be to avoid confusion, to sever ties to problematic history or both, the name may not be the name much longer.

A bill was introduced Monday to the Utah state legislature that would authorize the governing body to change the school's name. The move comes weeks after Dixie State's board agreed to change the name. A name change has also been endorsed by university president Richard Williams, student government, and the school's faculty senate.

The news comes as Dixie State is in the midst of transitioning from Division II to Division I. (Head coach Paul Peterson and the Trailblazers football team will play its first full DI schedule this fall.) Bask in the "Clean up! The guests will be here soon!" energy of this video, released last October.

In announcing his support of a name change, DSU president Williams said the name is a drag on the school's brand, citing a university-commissioned study that found 64 percent of respondents in the school's recruiting region believed the name had Confederate connotations.

If the university believes the Dixie State name presents excess baggage in the school's pursuit of regular students, it's got to be doubly so for Peterson and the football staff -- particularly as they level up to D1 competition and recruit more and more players outside of southwest Utah.

Choosing a new name won't be easy. Southern Utah University is already taken by Dixie State's new WAC rivals an hour's drive north on Instate 15, and the University of St. George harkens a private Catholic school, not a state institution. Still, any name is better than one that links the St. George, Utah-based school to the old Confederacy.

"As we grow into an open, inclusive, comprehensive polytechnic university that recruits students, faculty, and staff from all over the nation, it is important we have a brand that represents who we are and where we’re going," Williams said.