USF and the city

What is a Don?

Don in front of St Ignatius Church
1932 Don original drawing
The original Don sketched in 1932.
Don 1932 with a large hat
A very different rendering from 1932.
Don 1937 Errol Flynn look
A decidedly dapper Don from 1937.
Don 1947 Adios from yearbook
1947 Don from the yearbook cover.
Don 1947 with a woman
A version from 1947 with friend.
Don 1951 angry grimace face
A fighting Don from 1951.
Don 1951 on horseback
On horseback in 1951.
Fighting Dons song
Sheet music to "The Fighting Dons."
Don 2008 Vote poster
A stylized Don encourages voting in 2008.

Once used as a fancy way to address Spanish nobles, the usage of the Don title evolved to mean a distinguished gentleman. You know the type. It’s an honorific designation that has sailed across the Atlantic to enjoy broad contemporary usage for personal, social or official distinction in Latin American and Mexican-American communities.

But how did USF become the Dons?

Until November 1931, our athletic programs were referred to as the “Grey Fog,” a logical tribute to the cool blanket that swaddles our city. The San Francisco Junior Chamber of Commerce, however, felt that the name encouraged a chilly reputation and could hurt the city’s advertising.

So our beloved student newspaper, The San Francisco Foghorn, held a contest, challenging students and alumni to propose a new name. According to USF Historian Alan Ziajka in Legacy and Promise: 150 Years of Jesuit Education at the University of San Francisco, suggestions included seagulls, seals, and sea lions. In January 1932, a committee of undergraduates, alumni and administrators selected by Father President Edward Whelan, S.J. considered these and other submissions. Their votes were tallied to reveal USF’s new name: the Dons.

The new name spawned a more dignified mascot. In his signature mask and cape, Don Francisco – whose name is a subtle nod to Don Francisco de Haro, the city’s first mayor – represents a highly stylized version of the old-school Spanish look. We asked him to speak to us about his origins but he was unable to comment – he could only gesture wildly.