With the name “University of South Florida,” most people except USF to be located in Miami or Fort Lauderdale. Instead, USF is located in the middle of the state in Tampa, a city that is not near southern Florida at all!
So, how did the University of South Florida get its name?
When Florida Governor LeRoy Collins signed a law in 1955 that created a new state university in Hillsborough County, no one knew what that university would be called. Collected in the USF 50th Anniversary Oral History Project, Victor Leavengood recalls how the university didn’t have a name at first. In the 1950s, the Tampa Bay Times (previously named the St. Petersburg Times) joined the Tampa Tribune in querying the public for possible names for this new university. Community members responded in droves, but two names quickly became the most popular suggestions: “Bottle Cap U” and “Sandspur U.”
The name “Bottle Cap U,” or Bottle Cap University, came from the fact that the university was across the street from two breweries, Schlitz and Budweiser. “Sandspur U” had an equally obvious origin.
The land that the university was being built on was covered in sandspurs: a type of grass that produces hundreds of small thorny burs, which easily get stuck in clothing, shoes, and skin. Dr. Eugene Scruggs, professor of French, remembers that the university’s landscape consisted of little grass, few trees, a lot of sand, and A LOT of sandspurs. In fact, “sandspurs were the first things he noticed in Florida.”
Dr. David P. Schenck, professor of Biomedical Ethics and Literature, came to a similar conclusion. He remembers that the campus appeared to be “an open field with sandspurs.” The presence of sandspurs was so pronounced that the USF St. Petersburg women’s soccer team would eventually be named the “Sandspurs,” with the motto “pain in the grass.”
Even with all of the suggestions from the Tampa public, it wasn’t until October 22, 1957 that the university received its official name. The university was named the “University of South Florida” because it was the “southernmost state university in Florida at the time.” Leavengood notes that “there was [an] editorial comment [that] we’re not [in] South Florida, but that didn’t particularly disturb” the naming board.
Search out more interesting, and sometimes curious, aspects of USF history by listening to the USF 50th Anniversary Oral History Project, housed in Digital Collections.
Want more USF Curiosities? Check out the posts in this series:
- USF Curiosities: Sand as far as the eye could see?
- USF Curiosities: An elephant on the roof?
- USF Curiosities: Chickens in the elevator?
- USF Curiosities: Planting trees at “Sandspur U”?
- USF Curiosities: The Golden Brahman?
- USF Curiosities: A Pablo Picasso sculpture 10 stories tall?
- USF Curiosities: A faculty airplane?
- USF Curiosities: Chariot races?
- USF Curiosities: A 40-foot Band-Aid?
 University of South Florida, “History,” https://www.usf.edu/about-usf/history.aspx.
 Information and quotations related to Victor Leavengood were found in the USF 50th (2006) Anniversary Oral History Project, “Victor Leavengood,” p. 9-10, https://digital.lib.usf.edu/SFS0024389/00001.
 Information and quotations related to Eugene Scruggs were found in the USF 50th (2006) Anniversary Oral History Project, “Charles (Eugene) Scruggs,” p. 1, https://digital.lib.usf.edu/SFS0024432/00001.
 USF 50th (2006) Anniversary Oral History Project, “David Schenck,” p. 2, https://digital.lib.usf.edu/SFS0024429/00001.
 USF 25th (1985) Anniversary Oral History Project, “J. M. Tschiderer oral history interview,” p. 7, https://digital.lib.usf.edu/SFS0022392/00001.