Dear Mr. Mudd:
Q: From your FAQ website: “In 1896, when expanded program offerings brought the College university status, the College of New Jersey was officially renamed Princeton University in honor of its host community of Princeton.”
I am currently editing a novel that includes both Nassau Hall and Princeton; would the use of “Princeton” be anachronistic in 1818? Or was “Princeton” used informally, much as “Augusta” in reference to that city’s Masters Tournament?
A: While the college was informally called Princeton before its official name change in 1896, the earliest reference in that form that we have here in the University Archives dates from 1853 (within a publication entitled “College As It Is”). Our sources before 1853 are scanty, due to a paucity of things created (no student newspaper yet, no yearbooks, etc.). However, your question piqued my interest and so I did a search of the America’s Historical Newspapers database and found frequent references to “Princeton College” or “Princeton college” starting in 1772. For fun, I have attached a photo (above) of that first article from a Philadelphia newspaper, the Pennsylvania Packet [page 1, issue 43, Publication Date: August 17, 1772].
Update, May 29, 2014: Additional research into this revealed that an October 18, 1756 newspaper ad used the phrase “Prince-town college.” This is notable not only for its earlier date, but also that this was about five weeks before the college actually started operations in Princeton (November 28, 1756). According to Princeton, 1746-1896, by Thomas J. Wertenbaker, it was during fall break that the college moved from Newark to Princeton, “although carpenters and plasterers were still working in Nassau Hall when the session began” (p.40). So it can be safely said that the institution was known as Princeton from the very start of its time in the town of Princeton.