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Miami recently played Miami. How two universities ended up with nearly the same name

University of Miami football helmet
University of Miami
University of Miami football helmet

Miami University and the University of Miami face off on the gridiron Friday, Sept. 1, in — well, Miami, Fla. The idea of "Miami versus Miami" got Donna Boen thinking about how that game might sound to sports fans. She's editor of Miamian, Miami University's alumni magazine. Ina recent article, she notes the confusion isn't Miami University's fault — it had the name first — and university officials tried unsuccessfully to persuade "that school in Florida" to change its name.

Boen spoke with WVXU's Tana Weingartner about her recent article envisioning the match-up and how we ended up with two such similarly named universities.

DONNA BOEN: My lead is, 'Heaven help the announcer when Miami University plays the University of Miami in football on Sept. 1.' And I'm envisioning the announcer going 'Miami is within sight of Miami's end zone with two downs to go, and Miami calls a timeout.'


TANA WEINGARTNER: All right, Whose fault is this? Who had the name "Miami" first?

Well, Miami University, clearly. We are 100 years older than the University of Miami, and that is significant that the names are truly different.

You guys have the name — as people like to say, 'Miami was a university before Florida was a state,' — and then along comes this Florida university. So, what happened?

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We don't actually know. We've tried to look up where the University of Miami got its name. Some people have a theory that there was a river named after the Indians. Other people say that there were a lot of entrepreneurs actually from this part of Ohio that went down and settled that part of the state in Florida. Regardless, we don't know why they picked the University of Miami. Our president at the time and an alumnus at the time, who became president, tried to convince them to pick another name and they just didn't do it.

How did they try to convince them?

Well, we had a professor who became president who's well known on our campus, Dr. Upham, and he wrote a letter in our alumni magazine — and sent to the University of Miami president — trying to rally our alumni and our president to convince them that we already had this well established name and they — which I thought was interesting that he said — we're 'a famous winter metropolis of fashion.' Ooh, ouch. And their president actually said they were considering other names — University of Southern Florida, among others — but they just never made the change. But they said they would consider it and they also said they would call themselves University of Miami, Florida. That didn't stick.

Are college names not copyrighted? Did Miami University not have some sort of argument here?

No, it wasn't copyrighted. And again, they didn't use our name. Technically, they didn't say "Miami University." It's the University of Miami. It's just that people get confused and they don't keep those straight unless you're an alumnus of Miami University, and then you really know the difference.

Has there ever been any other attempt by Miami University to convince the University of Miami to do something different?

Not that I know of. I do know that our alums are particularly sensitive and it mostly comes up in sports when they call us Miami of Ohio, since we are Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and they don't say Miami of Florida, but I'm not aware that we raised this another time.

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To your knowledge, have there been any major snafus or anything caused by these two names being so similar, you know, on the national stage?

Not that I know, but there is a very obscure reference in one of the original letters. I don't know what they're talking about. They don't spell it out, but something happened right when it opened — it being the school in Florida. It's some kind of a reference where there was a confusion and the president in Florida apologized to the president in Ohio. So I don't know what happened, but it must have been publicity that neither president wanted and it looks like we got the gist of it because we were known and they were not.

Any predictions for when the University of Miami plays Miami University on Sept. 1?

I predict that Miami will win.

All right, well done. Donna Boen is editor of Miamian, that's Miami University's alumni magazine. Thank you so much for your time today.

Sure. Thank you

Click here to read Donna Boen's essay 'Miami vs. Miami? That's Confusing.' Miami plays Miami Friday at 7 p.m. You can watch on ESPN.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.