Prestigious Dulwich prep school drops Native American house names after cultural appropriation complaints

The houses have been changed to Lamassu, Phoenix, Pegasus and Gryphon  (Alamy)
The houses have been changed to Lamassu, Phoenix, Pegasus and Gryphon (Alamy)

A prestigious London prep school is embroiled in a debate over cultural appropriation after doing away with its historic Native American house names.

The decision was made by Dulwich Prep to avoid offending those of Native American ancestry and cited to a wider cultural shift in “society’s understanding as history evolves”.

According to reports, the independent boys’ school had also received some complaints from parents about the ongoing use of tribe names.

While the current head has defended the change in an open letter to parents, former pupils have argued that the former house names – Chippeway, Deerfeet, Mohican or Ojibwa – were an integral part of their experience.

BBC world affairs editor John Simpson, 79, was one of those who questioned the decision, arguing that the house names, which had been in place since 1916, were not offensive.

He told the Mail on Sunday: “I’m really depressed that something fundamental to the experience of every Dulwich Prep kid – which of us doesn’t remember whether he was a Chippeway, Deerfeet, Mohican or Ojibwa? – is being done away with.

“Being a Mohican – a house for bright but awkward and not terribly sporty kids – marked my future. I don’t suppose it’ll matter to what is nowadays a very fine school, but it matters to everyone who was there, no matter how old they are now.

Dulwich Prep (Alamy)
Dulwich Prep (Alamy)

“And to what end? So indigenous Americans won’t accuse Dulwich of cultural appropriation? Please. They’ve got better things to do.”

Following the decision to change its house names, the school has now been likened to Hogwarts by critics after naming its houses after mythical creatures instead – Lamassu, Phoenix, Pegasus and Gryphon.

Andrew Roberts, Baron Roberts of Belgravia, a historian, 61, said that removing the names was actually offensive to indigenous people.

The member of the House of Lords argued that the old names celebrated Native American culture.

“How racist of Dulwich Prep to do away with these noble tribal names that celebrate Native American culture, and replace them with pure Harry Potter names like Gryphon,” he said, per The Times.

Dulwich Prep, formerly known as Dulwich College Preparatory School, first opened its doors in 1885.

While bursaries are available, fees can range from £5,700 to £8,185 a year.

The decision to change the house names was defended by headmaster, Ms Louise Davidson.

“For over a century, the school has looked to Native American culture as an inspiration and a way of helping our pupils understand how to lead a good life. The reason for their adoption was one of appreciation and hope, which is still their core today,” she wrote in an open later to parents.

“We recognise that, as society’s understanding of history evolves, and [with] research that has included advice from the National Congress of American Indians, we have decided to move away from using tribes as our house system.”

The decision to change the house names has also been criticised by online commentators.

One Twitter/X user wrote: “A ridiculous and unnecessary kneejerk reaction by [Dulwich Prep]. Weak and woke.”

“Perhaps Dulwich Prep should ask native Americans what they think as the Prep is unable to think at all,” added a second.

But not everyone was so critical.

A third defended the decision, writing: “The decision to drop the use of tribe names at Dulwich Prep is part of a broader trend towards cultural sensitivity and respect. By avoiding the use of tribe names, the school is taking a step towards acknowledging and respecting the cultural heritage of indigenous peoples.

“This move reflects a growing awareness of the importance of cultural appropriation and the need to be mindful of the impact of our words and actions on marginalised communities. It is a positive step towards creating a more inclusive and respectful environment for all students.”

A spokesperson for Dulwich Prep told The Independent: “Over recent years, a number of our parents have raised with the school the appropriateness of our house names in the modern context. While everyone fully understands that individuals in 1916 chose the names out of admiration for Native American culture, we felt it was right to at least ask the question whether the names continued to be suitable in the 21st century.

“The exciting opening of our new Senior School in 2025 also made this the ideal opportunity to explore the topic further.

“Following a period of research and reflection, which included liaising with the National Congress of American Indians in the USA, we received their advice that our house names could be viewed as cultural appropriation. As a result, we started a process with our pupils to explore alternative options.

“Whenever changes are made to a system that has helped generations of children to flourish, it understandably stirs emotions for our alumni. In so many ways, it is heartening that these names continue to mean something to them as they progress through life. As a school, we have a responsibility to prepare our current children for the world that awaits them, which is one of the reasons for the change.

“We will continue the characteristics admired all those years ago, placing full emphasis on our “Values Ethos” of Love, Courage, Gratitude, Humility, Justice, Service, Self-Discipline, and Honesty, which are woven into all aspects of education at the school. Our hope is that our current and future children will also look back fondly on these new house system names in years to come.”