We found out the Tar Heels used to have a different name proving March is madness

Don’t worry, Duke still had the worst nickname

While UNC’s official name was always the Tar Heels, they had a more common nickname from the press from 1925 to 1951. The UNC men’s basketball team was called the “White Phantoms” starting in Atlanta, while the purpose of the name isn’t entirely clear.

UNC wasn’t alone in nicknames that no longer continue. NC State was called the “Red Terrors” and Duke was called the “Blue Imps” around the same time. Only Virginia’s nickname of the “Wahoos” remains.

These nicknames were not the official nicknames of the schools, just popular names of the sports teams. In that sense, UNC has been and always will be the Tar Heels.

Still, it was jarring to see a Carolina basketball team with the caption “White Phantoms.”

Daily Tar Heel, 1941

I take solace in the fact that Duke still had the worst nickname at the time. What is a “Blue Imp” anyway? A smurf. Duke might as well have been called the “Smurfs” in that era.

The reason for the nickname are not entirely clear. Most of the articles from the time period seem to agree that it came from the all-white uniforms the team wore.

UNC played in the Southern Conference while they were called the White Phantoms until the founding of the ACC on May 8, 1953. UNC has been the premier school in this premier conference ever since.

And, after the insistence of the university in 1951, the Tar Heels were exclusively the Tar Heels.