Why Do Fraternities and Sororities Have Greek Names?
To shed their boozy reputation. Clubs have existed on America's college campuses since 1750. Many began as literary debate clubs, and some took Latin names because it was the language of the scholars. Take William and Mary's popular F.H.C. society—which may have stood for the Latin Fraternitas, Hilaritas, Cognitoque (people knew it better as the "Flat Hat Club"). Ostensibly a debate club, in practice it was a group of drunken rabble-rousers. So on December 5, 1776, five William and Mary students met at a tavern to start their own debate club. The new club wanted a fresher, more serious image so they penned their motto, charter, and eventual name in Latin and Greek to differentiate it from all those drunky clubs (and to keep their motives secret). Today, we know this group as the prestigious honor society Phi Beta Kappa. In the late 18th century, ΦΒΚ expanded to other schools, inspiring students at Union College to form spinoff groups in 1825. They, too, chose Greek letters—and the social clubs quickly spread like a keg party to other campuses.