Today’s reader question comes from Marlena in Tulsa, Oklahoma:
Question: Why do some people call the Ivy League college University of Pennsylvania UPenn and others call it Penn? Which is right?
Answer: Oh my Marlena! You’ve touched my third rail. While both “UPenn” and “Penn” are colloquially used to refer to the University of Pennsylvania and both nicknames are considered correct by most normal people, I am not a normal person. Not just because I went to the University of Pennsylvania myself; I’m also not normal because I work in the world of college admissions, and after editing thousands of college essays, I am somewhat a stickler for detail (understatement). Therefore, I will say that I’m always pained when a student or parent or really anyone calls my alma mater “UPenn.” I want to scream out, “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” but I grin and bear it.
It doesn’t help that the university’s official website is upenn.edu; for a time penn.edu also re-directed to this same site, but no longer. This leads me to believe that the individuals who work in Penn’s IT department are, dare I say, obtuse and/or trying too hard to impress their friends and are therefore failing miserably.
“UPenn” is an abbreviation that emphasizes the university’s full name, while “Penn” is a shorter, more informal version of the name that is commonly used by students, alumni, and members of the local community. I find that people often use the former to impress or because they don’t know much about the university. Maybe they are trying to draw a distinction between my beloved Penn and Penn State? Who the heck knows, but it sounds all wrong to me. I’ve never known anyone who really lived Penn to call it “UPenn.”
So, in summary, the use of “UPenn” or “Penn” often depends on the context and the audience. For official university communications, “University of Pennsylvania” is often used, while “UPenn” may be used in more informal settings amongst those ignorant to the lived experiences of Penn students, employees, and alumni, as “Penn” is ubiquitously used by students, alumni, and others who have a close association with the university.
Regardless of the terminology used, both “UPenn” and “Penn” are widely recognized and understood to refer to the University of Pennsylvania but to those in the know, an individual uttering “UPenn” is always a red flag. Therefore, if “Penn” is ever considered wrong, I don’t want to be right, and I’ll never say “UPenn” aloud.