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What Is a Bruin?

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) is among the most prestigious public universities in the United States. In addition to its strong academic reputation, UCLA is also highly regarded for its sports teams, which use the Bruin moniker. It befits a city as rich and colorful as Los Angeles to use the name Bruin in place of bear.

By Jeff Calareso

UCLA Bruin

Before the Bruin Grew Up

UCLA first opened in 1881. In 1918, when the institution was still the California State Normal School's Los Angeles branch, the mascot was relatively unofficial. That year, the school's gardener found a found a small, fuzzy dog, named him Rags, and christened him the first mascot.

In 1919, when Los Angeles was a young but rapidly growing metropolis, UCLA earned university status as a Southern California extension of Northern California's UC Berkeley. The Golden Bear mascot used by UC Berkeley came from the California flag and eventual state animal. Since Berkeley had the Golden Bear, UCLA called its teams the Cubs. This matched the young, fledgling spirit of the school.

A year later, as the football team started to find some success, a more suitable name was sought. The more mature-sounding Grizzly Bear mascot was adopted briefly. Yet when UCLA joined the Pacific Coast Conference in 1926, their mascot was in conflict with the University of Montana Grizzlies. A panoply of new mascots were considered, from Gorillas to Buccaneers, before the institution returned to the bear theme. That year, UC Berkeley was claiming both Bears and Bruins, but they agreed to surrender the Bruins name to UCLA.

UCLA Bruin

From Real Bears to Teddy Bears

In the early days of the Bruin mascot, UCLA used live bears to motivate fans. Over the years, the bears had many nicknames, but Joe Bruin eventually stuck. In 1961, the institution was given a female Himalayan bear as a gift from alumni, which was named Josephine Bruin. Josephine lived on campus for a while, but ultimately found a home at the San Diego Zoo.

By the 1960s, live bears were causing concerns about student safety. This led to the creation of a costumed Joe Bruin, played by a student. In 1967, Joe was joined by Josephine, or Josie, another costumed bear. Some critical students and alumni of UCLA think Joe and Josie Bruin are too much like cuddly teddy bears, lacking the ability to intimidate rivals. Yet this pair has led UCLA's athletic teams for nearly half a century.

While it may not seem as fierce as a Bruin, the University of Maryland's Terrapin mascot has motivated athletes to great achievements.

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