Where Does The Term Freshmen Come From?

It's certainly not easy to be a freshman in college. The pressure of choosing the right classes, the fear that these decisions may affect the rest of your life, and the sheer workload make it an incredibly difficult time academically. Not to mention the social aspects too; forging new friendship bonds and juggling schedules adds a further challenging layer to it all.

At the same time, though, it can be unimaginably liberating to be a freshman. It's a chance to rediscover yourself, reinvent yourself, and otherwise make the very best of the wealth of new opportunities offered to you in a new and unchartered environment.

You're a blank slate, able to make life decisions as you wish. If your studies perhaps weren't the most successful in your earlier education, they absolutely can be now. You're brand new to this level of study (whichever it happens to be), and it seems this sentiment is exactly where the term "freshman" itself comes from.

King Henry VIII had a role to play

A freshman is defined as somebody who is new to a given pastime or occupation, as well as a first-year high school or college student, according to Merriam-Webster. It's quite easy to see why: they are coming to it all afresh.

Merriam-Webster goes on to state that the term has been used for a very long time. Its first recorded use, in the sense of "a person who is starting a job or activity," apparently appeared in 1557. This meaning, it seems, then evolved over time to mean a first-year student.

Incidentally, the year 1557 was shortly after the death of England's notorious King Henry VIII — who died on January 28, 1547, per Britannica. However, it seems first-year students came to be defined as freshmen, and second-years as sophomores during Henry's reign. And, apparently, it's all thanks to one very reputable British university.

The famous Cambridge and Harvard Universities

King Henry VIII's endowment of Cambridge University marked the first high-profile use of the term freshmen (or fresh-men) in this context, according to Mental Floss. Students just starting their careers in higher education were simply "fresh-men." Second and third-year students were reportedly deemed junior and senior sophists respectively. "Sophist" meant an educated person — a term used to refer to wise people and teachers in ancient Greece during the fifth century B.C. (per the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

The term fresh-men then spread to other educational establishments thanks to one very famous Cambridge alumni: John Harvard himself, who went on to establish the prestigious United States university that continues to bear his name. In short order, second-years became sophomores, and freshmen became the familiar term for first-year students at university. It was only centuries later that freshmen came to be used to describe new high school students specifically.

In 2012, HuffPost reported that the University of Carolina implemented a change in policy to simply deem these students simply "first-years," in the name of inclusivity.