By Any Other Name

by Belle Waring on May 10, 2004

The release of the movie Troy prompts me to wonder again about why certain things are named after the Trojans. Take sports teams, for example, like the USC Trojans. Now, there is just one story cycle involving the Trojans and conflict, and in it the Trojans decisively, utterly lose. I’m not saying they’re losers, per se; I’m always rooting for the Trojans because I love Hector. But imagine a coach giving an inspirational speech along these lines: “Guys, I want to you get out there and fight with all your hearts, only to see all you hold dear destroyed. At the end of this bowl game, I want you to feel like the original Trojans did when the saw their ancestral altar run red with the blood of aged Priam, beheld the pitiful spectacle of little Astyanax’ body broken on the walls of Troy, and heard the lamentations of their daughters, mothers and wives as they were reduced to slavery in a foreign land.” It’s not exactly “win one for the Gipper”, is it?

And then, there are the condoms. What do you think of when you hear the word “Trojan”? Possibly, you think of the heartbreaking scene of farewell between Hector and Andromache, when little Astyanax is frightened by the nodding plumes of Hector’s helmet. But probably not. Probably, you think: Trojan horse. So consider the context. There’s this big…item outside your walled citadel, and you are unsure whether to let it inside. After hearing the pros and cons (and seeing some people eaten by snakes), you open the gates and drag the big old thing inside. Then, you get drunk. At the height of the party, hundreds of little guys come spilling out of the thing and sow destruction, breaking “Troy’s hallowed coronal”, as they say. Is this, all things considered, the ideal story for condom manufacturers to evoke? Just asking.



Brian Weatherson 05.10.04 at 5:19 am

I’ve always wondered the same thing about why USC’s team is so-named. I guessed the thought was that in some sense the Trojans morphed into the Romans and they eventually overthrew the Greeks so eventually the Trojans win it all. But it does seem strange. (I’m not touching the condoms.)


taak 05.10.04 at 5:38 am

The marketing gurus prolly think it has a better ring to it than “Spartan” or “Athenian”


tombo 05.10.04 at 5:53 am

Finally, some wit and wisdom on this pompous site.

But ever was it thus for the Trojan Woman.


Another Damned Medievalist 05.10.04 at 6:22 am

Ah, ox-eyed Belle, mother to the lovely Mai and Zoë — good to see you back. My guesses:

Aeneas was a Trojan, and more or less founder of the Julian house.

More likely — yet another reason that we should focus more on the classics. My Latin professor in college used to rail on about people who named their children Jason and Cassandra …


Dick Durata 05.10.04 at 6:25 am

The Trojans were proud warriors. Should be enough for a football team, or one’s erection.


Chris Marcil 05.10.04 at 6:32 am

Why, this was right at the site you linked to:

“Up to that time [1912], teams from USC were called the Methodists or Wesleyans and neither nickname was looked upon with favor by university officials. Athletic Director Warren Bovard asked Los Angeles Times sports editor Owen Bird to select an appropriate nickname.

“At this time, the athletes and coaches of the university were under terrific handicaps,” Bird recalled. “They were facing teams that were bigger and better-equipped, yet they had splendid fighting spirit. The name ‘Trojans’ fitted them.”

I grew up near Troy, N.Y. The nickname of their high school team is…the Winged Horses.


John Quiggin 05.10.04 at 6:37 am

For reasons I’ve never fathomed, the phrase “working like a Trojan” was at point a popular euphemism for versions that had become politically unacceptable.

We now have “working like a dog” which doesn’t make much sense to me – although there are plenty of working dogs in Australia, their life is scarcely one of unremitting toil. Most working dogs spend a lot of time lying around the yard.

Google provides me with this:

WORK LIKE A TROJAN – “Trojan originally referred to the inhabitants of Troy, the ancient city besieged by the Greeks in their efforts to retrieve their queen, Helen, who had been abducted by the son of the King of Troy. According to legend, as recorded in both Vergil’s ‘Aeneid’ and Homer’s ‘Illiad,’ the Trojans were a hard-working, determined, industrious people. Hence: ‘He worked like a Trojan.” From “Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins” by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988).

but I can’t remember any particular reference to industriousness in the versions and extracts I’ve read.

Anyway, maybe these supposed virtues are being invoked, though I decline to develop the metaphor.


ogre 05.10.04 at 7:03 am

Diagnosis: Inadequate Classical Education

The surviving Trojans — reputedly — sailed to Italy. The Etruscans claimed them as their founders, and the Romans, following in Etruscan footsteps, did so too.

Why claim Troy over the Greeks?

Well, beyond the fact that the (presumptive) heirs of Troy won in the end, the Trojans held out against all the Hellenes for 10 years, and in the end fell only in the face of a rather extensive divine conspiracy against them and trickery.


bza 05.10.04 at 7:11 am

Uh, ogre–Belle is ABD in Classics at Berkeley, so it’s a bit rich to suggest that her classics education is lacking, or to assume that she’s unaware of the facts that you cite.


ogged 05.10.04 at 7:19 am

If only she’d finished the dissertation…


Belle Waring 05.10.04 at 7:25 am

Yeah, I hear they make you read the Aeneid before they give you the PhD. But seriously, if that was what people had in mind, you figure they’d just call their team the Romans.


Doug 05.10.04 at 7:56 am


blockbuster video cashier 05.10.04 at 8:06 am

in the summer of 1993, i handled consumer complaints for carter-Wallace pharmaceuticals, the manufacturers of Trojan condoms. One day I came upon an internal document which described the results of a quality control test. In terms of durability and general reliability, the Trojans ranked near the bottom. On the document someone had scrawled: “Oh well, back to the drawing board!”

Also while I was there, I learned that the company was planning to release a condom for the smaller-than-average man. It’s name: the Napoleon.


bryan 05.10.04 at 8:19 am

The question as to whether the image of the trojan horse is what condom makers should evoke is dependant on whom they are evoking that image for, the scenario you give seems to be something that might appeal to a frat boy although perhaps not his target. of course the frat boy is the supposed consumer.

maybe Trojan should evoke Paris, that young dog.


IXLNXS 05.10.04 at 8:30 am

The Trojan Horse reference evokes images of a rubber succesfully getting insides the walls, then releasing many tiny soldiers once inside.

Disgusting. You gave me foul imagery. I shall report you to the CFC.

If I could spell it.


Chris Bertram 05.10.04 at 8:58 am

Got me curious about why “Trojan Records”: were so-called. But it turns out they are named after the Leyland trucks of that name, and that, presumably derives from their strength and endurance.


bad Jim 05.10.04 at 9:22 am

Who but Odysseus, the sneakiest Greek, would deploy in Troy the ultimate woody? Still we call it the Trojan Horse.


spacetoast 05.10.04 at 10:18 am

At least the Trojans were good bona fide pugilists. I’ll take that over at least two thirds of these, e.g. the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, or the NYU Mincing Hairdressers.


mm 05.10.04 at 3:48 pm

Traditionally, Anglo-Americans tend to prefer gallant losers to winners. That is why Mons and the Somme are much better-remembered than the battles that won the First World War, why New York has an avenue named for Lexington but not for Yorktown, etc. My sense, based on my own 7 years of higher education, is that modern academics are total power worshippers who do not share this tradition, but I could be wrong.


Patrick Nielsen Hayden 05.10.04 at 4:24 pm

Classical allusions are ever-treacherous. Michigan State University’s football team is the Spartans, and East Lansing is dotted with businesses with names like “Spartan Pizza”…


Ophelia Benson 05.10.04 at 4:46 pm

“Traditionally, Anglo-Americans tend to prefer gallant losers to winners. That is why Mons and the Somme are much better-remembered than the battles that won the First World War”

And why Scott is a hero.

But the Trojans are often the more sympathetic side, aren’t they? Even in the Iliad, in a way. And certainly in ‘Troylus and Criseyde’, and ‘Troilus and Cressida.’ The Greeks were – ruthless domineering bastards like Agamemnon, or whiny also-rans like Menelaus, or sneaky bastards like Odysseus, or selfish egomaniacs like Achilles.


rea 05.10.04 at 4:54 pm

“East Lansing is dotted with businesses with names like ‘Spartan Pizza’…”

Or even worse, the Spartan Motel–stay there if you want communal dining with a lot of guys, hard beds, no baths, and regular flogging . . .

(I happen to live in Sparta, Michigan, myself, although I went to UM rather than MSU) . . .


JRoth 05.10.04 at 6:07 pm

Actually, I think ophelia has pointed us to the real answer, which is that history is written by the winners, and in the Classical world, the Romans were, ultimately, the winners. And so their ancestor-worship of the Trojans led to a lot of pro-Troy literature (and the sickening disparagement of the character of that wiliest – not sneakiest – of the Achaeans).

The second key is that Roman lit was a bigger early influence on the Christian tradition than Greek – remember, the works of Homer were unknown in the west until, what, 15something? Post-Roman Western culture developed its view of the Trojans under the prejudices of the Romans.

So in a sense, the guesses above about Troy being the ultimate victor were right, but not because people take the long view. A future civilization would take very different views of Native Americans depending on which era’s literature on the topic survived….


Matt Weiner 05.10.04 at 6:08 pm

Complete off-topicness:
Is there any comparable explanation for the Vagabond Motel in Pasadena?
And the U. Idaho team is called the Vandals–if there were a sports-related riot, do you think the administration would complain that they had besmirched proud Vandal tradition?


Ed Zeppelin 05.10.04 at 6:37 pm

the U. Idaho team is called the Vandals

I always thought it was because, after they lose a big game, they sneak out to the parking lot and spray-paint dirty words on the visiting team’s bus while the winners are still showering.


james 05.10.04 at 6:40 pm

Dares and Dictys have a lot to answer for…

The Hellenistic and Roman periods produced almost exclusively “Trojans were good, Achaeans were bad” versions of the Trojan War even before the Roman “New Troy” meme became dominant, with this carrying over into the mediaeval and Renaissance periods (consider even Shakespeare’s _Troilus and Cressida_, where nobody’s particularly attractive but Hector and the Trojans are still better than the Greeks).

In Britain, where the same tradition derived the first Britons from Brutus — _vide_ Layamon’s _Brut_ and Geoffrey of Monmouth — the trend was even more strongly in favour of the positive view of Trojans.

Hector was considered one of the Nine Worthies of the world.

If I had been a reasonably wellinformed person choosing a name back near the turn of the century, the positive connotations of “Trojan” would have made it a reasonable choice.

I don’t know about the condoms … that seems almost as irrational as naming a car after Cressida.


Xopher 05.10.04 at 7:07 pm

I’ve been saying that about the condoms for at least 20 years. Besides, they’re nasty galoshlike things.


ADM 05.10.04 at 7:58 pm

Heck — in the Iliad, there aren’t too many characters for whom we can’t feel sympathy. Achilleus and Odysseus, perhaps. Helen. Paris — stupid and young, but ultimately screwed by the goddesses. Agamemnon? tough call. Seriously, though — how many of the characters are independent actors, compared to people caught up in the internecine squabbles of the Olympians?


GD 05.10.04 at 8:04 pm

Would red-blooded American males put on a condom called “Greek?”

I can hear the ad slogans now: “There’s no love like Greekâ„¢ love!”


Tom 05.10.04 at 8:38 pm

“Achilleus and Odysseus, perhaps.”

Well, in the backstory, Odysseus tried to get out of going to war by faking insanity, only to be foiled when one of the Greeks places Odysseus’s (then unnamed) baby boy in front of his plough. Odysseus break down, and has to leave and fulfill his oath, calling his boy “Telemachus” after the distant battle his father is to fight. So I have some sympathy for the Big O.

Achilles, though, is a big puffed-up prima donna.


eumaeus 05.10.04 at 9:05 pm

> Achilles, though, is a big puffed-up prima donna.

Which is why he is played by Brad Pitt.


David 05.10.04 at 9:36 pm

an anecdote:

My brother attended Texas A&M University, and was in the Corps there. His unit was called, for whatever reason, Trojan-12. Many members of the unit (no pun intended) hoped for medical careers (my brother was not one of them), and the unit’s marching chant went

“Trojan 12
For the prevention of disease only!”


Ophelia Benson 05.10.04 at 10:07 pm

“The Hellenistic and Roman periods produced almost exclusively “Trojans were good, Achaeans were bad” versions of the Trojan War even before the Roman “New Troy” meme became dominant”

And even before that. Look at Euripides – one anti-Achaean play after another. The Greeks aren’t exactly the good guys in ‘The Trojan Women’ for example.


cafl 05.10.04 at 10:15 pm

Apropos the Vandals, I offer the UC Santa Cruz Fighting Banana Slugs – the fight song by the Austin Lounge Lizards is worth a listen.


Tom 05.11.04 at 12:07 am

“And even before that. Look at Euripides – one anti-Achaean play after another. The Greeks aren’t exactly the good guys in ‘The Trojan Women’ for example.”

Ipthigenia at Aulis is similarly down on the Greek side. Although Euripides was writing, IIRC, when Athens and Sparta were at war.


Ophelia Benson 05.11.04 at 1:33 am

“Although Euripides was writing, IIRC, when Athens and Sparta were at war.”

Yup – and more bitterly as the war dragged on and Athens started behaving more and more badly. Especially toward small places like Melos. Oh gosh, what does that remind me of – hmm – nope, can’t think of it.

But anyway, that’s just it. He chose to make the Greeks the dirty rotten bastards. (Though Hekabe isn’t exactly cuddly in her play.)


vivian 05.11.04 at 1:49 am

Ah the things one thinks about when the newest love of one’s life happens to require hourly food/cuddle time. Fortunately it’s a pleasure, although the mind-altering effects and unexpected links between thoughts continue regardless.

Next would you care to interpret the equation two beers equals sex: 2 * Dos Equis = Fourex condoms ?


Greg 05.11.04 at 2:27 am

It might be worth taking a look at Andrew Erskine’s Troy between Greece and Rome in this regard; it considers why the Romans claimed to be descended from the Trojans and what the Greeks thought of this.


harry 05.11.04 at 2:43 am

I attended USC for 5 1/2 years, and must have taught 300+ students there as a TA. Classics 101 (or whatever) was a popular way of fulfilling some GE requirement (because it had lots of sex, unlike Philosophy). I asked numerous undergraduates what happened when they got to the story of the Trojan Wars. They couldn’t tell me. Really — at that time at least (second half of the 80’s) USC undergraduates were, I suspect, almost uniformly ignorant of the fate of their forebears.

I also thought for my first several months that USC had its own brand of condom; having observed that it produced official semi-ponrographic calenders I did not find this surprising.


Epacris 05.11.04 at 5:43 am

From vivian:

2 * Dos Equis = Fourex condoms

Is there really a condom brand called Fourex !?

Have many Australians (particularly Queenslanders — aka banana-benders ) heard of this? We’ve all done jokes about Durex (sticky tape/condoms), but this one’s new to my sheltered ears.

for elucidation of the importance of XXXX to those in our Deep North. (And mention Odysseus to Polytropos ( ) too.)


ephemeron 05.15.04 at 2:08 am

FWIW, Trojan condoms got the name because of Priam’s remarkable virility — he fathered 50 sons and an indeterminate number of daughters. (Similarly, Ramses condoms are named for a pharaoh who’s supposed to have kept a couple of hundred wives and concubines and fathered over 150 children.)

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