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Spring 2004 Bruin Walk

Antiquated Illustration of Bruin Mascot
Illustration from
William Andrews Clark Memorial Library

An early depiction of Bruin the Bear from a 1701 edition of The Most Delectable History of Reynard the Fox



The Once and Future Bruin

by Marina Dundjerski '94

Ever wonder how UCLA came to have its mascot? Or how "bruin" came to represent a bear in the first place?

Although accounts differ, according to the Centennial Record of the University of California, the grizzly bear was chosen in 1925 as the official mascot for the Southern Branch of the University of California, as UCLA was known then. (Originally, UCLA students were "Cubs" a possible nod to the school's fledgling status that didn't sit well for long.)

However, when UCLA entered the Pacific Coast Conference in 1929, fellow conference member University of Montana already had the grizzly moniker. Meanwhile, UC Berkeley was using Bears and Bruins, and it was decided UCLA would take Bruins.

But why are bears known as bruins? Again, accounts vary. But it seems our beloved, yet redundantly named, Bruin the Bear made his first appearance in the 12th century in the medieval beast epic of Reynard the Fox. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the initial use of Bruin in the English language was by England's first printer, William Caxton, who used it in his 1481 translation, The Historye of Reynart the Foxe.

In the original Old French tale, the bear's proper name was Brun, or brown, says H.A. Kelly, English professor and former director of UCLA's Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. However, when creating his English version, Caxton used a Flemish translation of the tale, which gave the name as Bruin. In his final text, Caxton alternated between "Bruin" and "Brune," Kelly says.

"A modernized spelling would render the name simply brown, or, we would more likely say in our American idiom, brownie," Kelly continues. "But the form Bruin won out, and it eventually became a generic name for the common European brown bear, and then it was transferred to the various New World bears, including the grizzly."

Now ... aren't you glad Bruin won out over Brownie?

2005 The Regents of the University of California