Why is the University of Vermont abbreviated UVM?


Vermonters have their own way of doing things.

The University of Vermont campus is pictured in 2020. Charles Krupa / AP

Those of us uneducated in Vermont lore might raise an eyebrow at the common nickname for the state’s flagship university. Shouldn’t the University of Vermont be UVT, not UVM? Leave it to the quirky, crunchy Vermonters to abbreviate their own school’s name incorrectly, you might think. 

Think again, Vermont slanderers. The explanation is actually quite simple: UVM stands for “Universitas Viridis Montis,” the Latin translation of the school’s name.

What’s in a name?

The Republic of Vermont was christened by its founders on June 7, 1777. They originally wanted to call it New Connecticut, until Boston Tea Party organizer Thomas Young wrote them a letter suggesting the name Vermont.

Young derived “Vermont” from French — “ver” for vert, or green, and “mont” for montagne, or mountain — in honor of the Green Mountains that traverse the state from top to bottom.

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The founders, who had declared Vermont an independent country, valued higher learning even though few of them had received much education themselves. So they wrote in the Republic’s constitution that the government should establish a university.

In 1791, the General Assembly did just that, and the University of Vermont was born. By then, Vermont was no longer its own country — it had joined the U.S. as the 14th state. It took another 10 years to cobble together funding and find a place to put the university (they eventually settled on Burlington). The first class graduated in 1804; each of the four students had paid $12 per year to attend.

UVM’s first president, Rev. Daniel Clarke Sanders, was an avid classicist. So in 1807, when it came time to design an official seal for the university, he and the Board of Trustees added the Latin “Universitas V. Montis” (V as in Viridis) at the top. The 1807 seal also featured the university’s motto, “studiis et rebus honestis,” which roughly translates to “for virtuous studies and matters” or “integrity in theoretical and practical pursuits,” according to two UVM librarians. The present-day seal looks much the same, with the addition of the agricultural college’s Latin name at the bottom.

The original 1807 seal of the University of Vermont, from the university’s archives. (Courtesy UVM)
UVM’s current seal. (Courtesy UVM)

When did people start using the UVM abbreviation?

Sanders’s “Universitas Viridis Montis” was the seedling for the UVM abbreviation, but it took a while longer for the nickname to catch on. 

The UVM abbreviation first appeared in the college paper, the University Cynic (now the Vermont Cynic), in 1906 as the subject of an acrostic poem.

The first archival reference Prudence Doherty, a public services librarian at the university, could find was an 1822 newspaper advertisement for the UVM medical college.

It would take several more decades for the abbreviation to become ubiquitous. Newspaper archives show that by the early 1900s, it was everywhere. Today, the three letters adorn sweatshirts, baseball caps, and promotional literature galore.