Why is Tennessee called the Volunteers? Mascot name explained

  • The University of Tennessee's athletics teams are known as the Volunteers.
  • While it has become a nickname for many Tennesseans, what is its origin story?
  • It has everything to do with the Tennessee militia during the first-half of the 19th century.

Tennessee Volunteers
Tennessee Volunteers / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages

For all the Bulldogs, Eagles and Wildcats out there, there are the Tennessee Volunteers of the world. Despite being a major state university in one of college sport's most prolific conferences, you would be lying to yourself if you didn't think the Volunteers nickname was odd. It can be shortened to Vols, or even adapted to the Lady Vols when you are referring to the iconic women's basketball program.

But for those of you who don't know why Tennessee's teams are called the Volunteers, let me explain. It has everything to do with men volunteering to be part of the Tennessee militia during two wars in the early 19th century. The nickname first came about during the War of 1812, thanks to so many men "volunteering" to be part of the Tennessee militia to help fight off yet another British invasion.

To be honest, I never knew that. But what I did know is that the nickname really took off during the Mexican-American War. United States President and Tennessee native James K. Polk called for 2,600 volunteers to help fight in the war happening around 1848. An astounding 30,000 Tennesseans answered the call. In the years since, the term of Volunteer has been a point of pride with Tennessee.

With the university located in Knoxville that happens to be the state's flagship has that nickname.

Why are the University of Tennessee teams called the Volunteers?

For every team that has a nickname based on naming alliteration, a phrase coined by a journalist in an early 20th century newspaper or something that just sounds cool, you have one like what Tennessee has with Volunteers that is absolutely perfect. This may not be a team I root for, or actually like, but I will always say that the Tennessee Volunteers have one helluva nickname and should be proud of it.

Overall, not every university or state will have a nickname as great as this one. To me, it is one of the better nicknames across the Power Five, along with the North Carolina Tar Heels, the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Oklahoma Sooners, ones that are unique unto themselves. The other great part in the Tennessee Volunteers nickname is that Tennessee and Volunteers both have nine letters in them.

Ultimately, this will always be one of my favorite parts of sports. All the wacky, weird and wonderful names many teams have to offer. While other ones like Falcons, Pirates and Tigers are all fine, they are not unique. Every time you come across one that is inherently different, it has to put a smile on your face. After all, these are the kind of things that made us fall in love with sports in the first place.

So the next time somebody asks you why Tennessee is called the Volunteers, now you will know.

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