From the University of Rio Grande in Ohio to Virginia College in a dozen states (but not Virginia), here are colleges whose names belie their actual geography.
Over the weekend, I was at a bar watching the maddening Northwestern team play (and, ultimately, figure out a way to lose to) Michigan State. “You went to Northwestern?” someone at the bar asked me. “Yes.” “Where is that?” “Just outside Chicago.” “Chicago? Really? Shouldn’t it be in, like, Washington?”
Rather than pull out the old “the Big Ten region was once part of the Northwest Territory and, at the time, the northwestern part of the country,” I decided to be the first Northwestern alum in history not to be condescendingly pedantic. “Yeah, probably,” I laughed… then went back to drinking reasonably priced light domestic beers and watching a bunch of 20-year-olds wearing purple turn my hair white.
That all leads up to this list — I went through all of the colleges and universities in the U.S. to try to find others that have geographically confused or confusing names.
In all of these cases, of course, the school has a completely legitimate claim to its name. Usually it’s related to an Indian tribe, a smaller city that shares the name of a larger city, or simply a state name re-appropriated for a perfectly apropos reason. Oh, and in one case, Dracula is involved. Still, none of that changes the fact that when you say the college’s name and its state, the person you’re talking to would respond “Huh?”
1 | University of Rio Grande – located in Rio Grande, Ohio
I’m from Ohio and never knew there was a city in the southern part of the state called Rio Grande — more than 1,500 miles away from the river itself. Two thoughts. One, turns out they pronounce it “Rye-oh Grande.” And two, back when I lived in Ohio, it was light on illegal immigrants… but if they do ever make it up to the state, and see signs for Rio Grande, how many of them will say, “Oh, not this shit again”?
2 | California University of Pennsylvania – located in California, Pennsylvania
Well that’s just confusing. I know the University of Pennsylvania — Ivy league, in Philadelphia, occasionally makes the NCAA tourney. And I know California University — it’s where Zack, Slater, Screech, and eventually Kelly went during Saved by the Bell: The College Years. But the combo just makes you go hmmm.
I love that there’s a city called California, Pennsylvania. It doesn’t look like a city, it looks like you’re just making a list of states. Quite possibly a list entitled “States where Stallone is more popular than Schwarzenegger.”
3 | Indiana University of Pennsylvania – located in Indiana, Pennsylvania
Well at this point you just feel like the people naming cities in Pennsylvania are just effing with us. I’d actually heard of this one but got it muddled with a college whose name is less geographically confused and more just confused confused: Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis… aka IUPUI.
4 | Transylvania University – located in Lexington, Kentucky
I hear they really suck.
5 | Pittsburg State University – located in Pittsburg, Kansas
Kansas also has a Manhattan Christian College, but I opted for the Pittsburg one because I wanted to pass on Pittsburg-without-an-h trivia. I’m like that.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — the most famous Pittsburgh, and also the one most filled with doughy quarterbacks who are all hands — got its name in 1794. But in 1890, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names actually made them change it to Pittsburg, which, in the Board’s eyes, was the correct spelling. It was changed back to Pittsburgh in 1911.
During the time it was Pittsburg was when Honus Wagner was playing baseball there… and in 1909, his picture was put on a baseball card with the word “PITTSBURG” splashed across his chest. To most of us, it looks like the “H” was just cut off by the margin, but it never existed.
I bring up that card because it’s the most famous and expensive baseball card of all time — yes, even more famous than the time when Billy Ripken wrote “FUCK FACE” on his bat — and it contains the alternate spelling of ” Pittsburg.” And now you know… the rest of the story.
6 | Washington University – located in St. Louis, Missouri
Although some people refer to it by its less confusing name: The College Of Smart Kids Who Really Want To Play Football.
7 | Santa Fe College – Gainesville, Florida
It used to be called Santa Fe Community College. Santa Fe, New Mexico, also had a Santa Fe Community College. I can’t guarantee this, but I *believe* this was the only time in my entire search that I found a geographically confused college that had the identical name as a geographically clear college. At least the Floridian Santa Fe Community College was the one that flinched and changed its name.
8 | Oakland University – located in Oakland County, Michigan
People from Michigan (including, if not especially, my girlfriend) are surprisingly Michi-centric. Like all of the Michiganders reading this right now are aghast that I would suggest that Oakland is more associated with being in the Bay Area of California than a suburban county of Detroit. In fact, most of them are currently holding their palm up to the computer and angrily pointing at a spot just below their thumbs, as if to vehemently, electronically transmit to me the location of Oakland, Michigan.
9 | San Juan College – located in Farmington, New Mexico
When I hear San Juan, I think of Puerto Rico. Although a quick search through Wikipedia shows that the good old Spanishized version of Saint John really has a lot of places named after him. Not as many as the Frenchified version of Saint John though. You can’t walk three feet through France or, to a weaker extent, Quebec without stumbling onto something named after Saint-Jean.
10 | Miami University – located in Oxford, Ohio
Growing up in the Midwest, generally, when someone tells you they went to school at Miami, you respond, “Of Ohio?” A ton of Midwesterners make the trek out to Los Angeles eventually, which has actually made “Of Ohio?” the default question around these parts too. I have a friend out here who grew up in Florida went to Miami — not of Ohio, actual The U — and, he says, it took him years to figure out why he was always getting “Of Ohio?”
11 | Virginia College – a dozen locations, none in Virginia
Virginia College is a for-profit chain of schools (at least, one that admits it’s for-profit). They have three locations in Alabama, two in Florida, two in Georgia, one in Louisiana, two in Mississippi, three in South Carolina, one in Tennessee and one in Texas. None in Virginia. Although word on the street — not any actual street, of course — is that they’re opening a culinary-focused branch in Richmond soon.
The chain originally started in Virginia, which is how they got the name — and then kept it even after they moved their operation, even though it really wasn’t applicable anymore. Making them kind of like the Utah Jazz of colleges.