What Is a Buckeye?

Apr 01, 2011

The men's basketball team at Ohio State University failed to reach the final rounds of this year's NCAA Tournament. Despite this disappointment, the team has been a consistent threat in recent years. That high profile has brought attention to their unusual mascot, Brutus Buckeye. The origins of the Buckeye nickname are unique to the university's Ohio setting and cultural heritage.

By Jeff Calareso

Brutus Buckeye

What Is a Buckeye?

The word Buckeye can refer to a deciduous tree that typically grows between 50 and 80 feet in height, also known as the Ohio buckeye or fetid buckeye. The unfortunate 'fetid' nickname originates from the foul smell emitted by the buckeye tree's flowers or broken leaves, bark or twigs. The tree is native to the central United States including Ohio, where it's the state tree.

Buckeye is also the name given to the tree's nut, which is typically about an inch in diameter. The buckeye nut is shiny and mostly dark brown, with a circular light brown patch. The nut resembles the eye of a deer. According to folklore, carrying a buckeye brings good luck.

Before Ohio Was a State

In 1788, 15 years before Ohio was declared a state, the first permanent white settlers were arriving in what would become the city of Marietta. One of the settlers, Colonel Ebenezer Sproat, was a large and swaggering man who impressed the local Native Americans. They greeted him by shouting, 'Hetuck, hetuck,' which is their word for buckeye. Sproat was the first person to have the Buckeye nickname, but by the 1830s, the name was a widespread term for people in the area.

Brutus Buckeye

Buckeye Traditions Today

In 1950, Ohio State adopted the Buckeye as its official nickname. The first mascot came in 1965 when student Ray Bourhis designed a large, smiling papier-mâché buckeye nut with legs, later named Brutus Buckeye. During Brutus Buckeye's early years, the university alternated between the cumbersome 'nut with legs' design and a mascot that's essentially a human with a nut on its shoulders. The weight of the original design ultimately became too difficult to handle, resulting in the current Brutus Buckeye, who more closely resembles a person.

As an additional reference to the buckeye, an image of the tree's leaf is used on many teams' uniforms and equipment at Ohio State. For example, football players add quarter-sized stickers of the buckeye leaf on their helmets for notable plays or consistent effort.

Another college mascot that's tied to the local region is Penn State's Nittany Lion.

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