How UNC Charlotte became the 49ers

Thursday, October 5, 2023

We’ve all heard the chant: FOR-TY! NI-NERS! From football games to commencement, wherever Niners are gathered, you’re sure to hear it.

It’s a rallying cry for all of Niner Nation, a declaration of the common ground we share — a love for UNC Charlotte and a desire to see it thrive. It’s a reminder that together, we are all Niners.

But how did the University become known as the Charlotte 49ers? To recognize Niner Nation Week, we share our story of perseverance and resilience.

PAINT THE TOWN: Join the Niner Nation Week: Homecoming 2023 festivities as we turn the city green with celebrations, social gatherings, parties, award ceremonies and more, culminating with our signature Homecoming events.

Students cheering at a Charlotte 49ers game


Historical photo of the Charlotte College sign

UNC Charlotte originally began as the Charlotte Center of the University of North Carolina (CCUNC) in 1946, founded to serve the educational needs of veterans returning from World War II — one of a handful of similar institutions across the state. These were created in response to rising education demands generated by the war and its technology.

Miss Bonnie Cone

In 1949, after just three years, North Carolina moved to close all the state’s college centers, declaring that on-campus facilities were sufficient to meet the needs of returning veterans. However, Bonnie E. Cone, the University's founder, and her supporters were keenly aware of the region’s need for public higher education and valiantly fought to keep the institution open. In a dramatic turn of events, Cone and her supporters succeeded and Charlotte College was officially established that same year.

Were it not for the tenacity and determination of Miss Bonnie, as she was affectionately known, UNC Charlotte would not exist today. Thanks to that ambitious attitude and pioneering spirit, and in honor of the year 1949, the University officially adopted the “49ers” nickname.

Fun Fact: Basement Beginnings

Charlotte College originally opened in the basement of Charlotte’s Central High School, which is now part of Central Piedmont Community College on Elizabeth Avenue. It moved to its current location in University City in 1961.

Historical photo of the old Central High School building

Night Owls

Old Owls football magazine cover

However, the “49ers” moniker wasn’t officially adopted until 1961. During its early years, the school’s nickname was the Owls because the institution operated primarily at night — and even fielded a football team.

Read more: Before they were the 49ers: Former Owls player excited for bowl game

The rapid evolution from a night school to a more traditional college prompted the student body to reevaluate the name — and the school colors. In 1961, following a student vote, the “49ers” nickname was officially adopted with light blue and white replacing maroon and gray as school colors.

And four years later, in 1965, Charlotte College became the University of North Carolina at Charlotte when it officially joined the UNC System as its fourth member; another student vote was held changing the school colors to green and white.

Historical University newspaper cover highlighting an article about new seal and colors


There are a few lucky occurrences and coincidences related to the 49er nickname.

  • In 1965, the N.C. Legislature voted 49-0 to formally transform Charlotte College into UNC Charlotte, with State Senator Irwin “Ike” Belk — an ardent supporter of the University — intentionally abstaining ensuring the final tally would be 49.

  • The campus is fortuitously located on N.C. Highway 49, but not atop an abandoned gold mine as rumors have stated.


Diagram of Charlotte 49ers football jerseys

The Charlotte 49ers football coaching staff recognizes a player each game with the honor of wearing the No. 49 jersey. The player is selected by the coaching staff for best demonstrating the standards that reflect the culture of the 49ers.

During the inaugural season in 2013, the back of the No. 49 jersey replaced the player’s name with one of the program’s four G-O-L-D standards: Grit, Opportunity, Leadership and Determination.

Larry Ogunjobi wearing No. 49 jersey during inaugural football game

The first player to wear the honorary No. 49 was defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi, who also is the first 49er drafted to the NFL. Ogunjobi wore No. 49 for the 49ers’ inaugural game against Campbell on August, 31, 2013. He would go on to be selected by the Cleveland Browns in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Ogunjobi, who normally wore No. 65, was the 65th pick in the draft.

Deeper Dive

Explore the University's logos and visual identities over the years.

Charlotte 49ers logo