Tar Heels

UNC—Chapel Hill's unique "Tar Heels" nickname is also the nickname for a resident of the state, as well as for the state itself. The term traces back to the eighteenth century, when North Carolina, with its plentiful pine trees, was a major producer of tar and turpentine for the naval industry. "Tar Heel" emerged as a derogatory term for the enslaved people and other poor, barefoot North Carolinians who produced the products and thus had pine resin or tar stuck to the bottoms of their feet ("rosin heels" was an earlier version of the term). The nickname became popular after the Civil War to represent North Carolina people and products. When students started the university's first student newspaper, in 1893, they called it the Tar Heel.

It is not clear when Carolina athletic teams began officially using the Tar Heels nickname. Early newspaper coverage referred to the team as the "Tar Heels" only when they played teams from other states, suggesting that the formal nickname was not yet used. In fact, some newspaper articles referred to other college teams in the state as "Tar Heels" when they played teams outside of North Carolina. By the 1910s and 1920s the nickname was used more frequently in reference to the UNC teams, even when they played other teams from North Carolina. As the reputation of UNC's basketball and football teams grew through the twentieth century, the Tar Heels nickname became more firmly associated with the university. When UNC—Chapel Hill entered its first licensing agreement in the 1980s, "Tar Heels" was one of the phrases registered by the university, and it remains an official word mark of the university.