Webster's Dictionary defines "catamount" as "any of various wild cats such as a cougar or lynx." Cats of the catamount variety, including the bobcat, have roamed the southern Appalachian Mountains, where Western Carolina University is located, for years.
The nickname evolved from a contest that was held on the Cullowhee campus in 1933. At the time, the school was called "Western Carolina Teachers College" and its teams were known as "the Teachers."
Everyone on campus was invited to participate in the naming of the teams. The usual names were suggested -- Bears, Indians, Panthers. However, the college wanted an unusual name, a name that few others had and that everyone would not copy.
The contest came down to Mountain Boomers, a small ground squirrel that scampers about the woods and is extremely difficult to catch, and Catamounts. The latter was the favorite of Head Football Coach C.C. Poindexter and was the nickname chosen. Poindexter wanted his players to be Catamounts with "fierce spirit, savage attacks, and lightning quick moves."
Western Carolina University is the only one of two NCAA schools playing under the Catamount moniker. Western is the only football-playing school in the nation using the nickname "Catamounts," with the University of Vermont being the only other school using that nickname.