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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Washington State Considers Changing the Names of Soap Lake, Squamish Harbor, and More

Posted by on Wed, Aug 22, 2012 at 6:00 AM

Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmakr: On the decision-making committee!
  • Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark, member of the decision-making committee!
I have a long-running fascination with the obscure panels that every state—as well as the federal government—set up to rule on what various lakes, mountains, hills, and rivers should officially be called.

Here in Washington, our obscure panel is known as the Committee on Geographic Names, and its members include the Commissioner of Public Lands, the State Librarian, the Director of the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, a representative from Washington's Native American tribes, and three members from the public.

And, on October 19—mark your calendars!—this committee will convene to consider whether eastern Washington's Soap Lake (recommended here) should henceforth be referred to as Lake Smokium. The idea is to give this lake, once known for its healing waters, a name that means "healing waters" in the language of Native Americans from the area. As historian and writer Robert Ruby put it to the Columbia Basin Herald, this change could "demonstrate the good faith of non-Indians today for Indian people and their values and history."

It's is not a new idea. For example, various state panels have, in recent years, been giving the nation's Squaw Creeks and Squaw Lakes (there are a lot of them) new names that are less offensive. In this vein, our Committee on Geographic Names will also be considering whether to change Columbia County's Squaw Creek into Columbia County's Teemux Creek. And, from Jefferson County, there's a proposal to change Squamish Harbor to a name that's spelled with characters I don't know how to recreate here and is pronounced "Nu-Ha-A."

No doubt some of these proposed changes will be controversial, as they always are. But I also see potential for geographic place-name drama in some of the "clarifications" the board is pursuing this year. Among them: Just how many islands are included in San Juan County's Gossip Islands? Where, exactly, is the official location of Kangaroo Point? In Mason County, is it Sister Point or is it Sister Points? And come on, how should Tharold Pond really be spelled?

Can't wait for October 19.


Comments (9) RSS

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venomlash 1
Moses smell the roses, is it that hard to copy and paste?
Posted by venomlash on August 22, 2012 at 7:33 AM · Report this
Nu-Ha-A is an awful approximation of Nəxʷx̣áʔəy. A lot closer: Nuk-whah-eye. Of course, there's no good options when you're trying to approximate Salishan words in English.
Posted by DandyFellow on August 22, 2012 at 7:54 AM · Report this
It's Lake SMOKIAM. Please check the spelling.
Posted by Terrileedee on August 22, 2012 at 8:43 AM · Report this
Eli Sanders 4
@1: It didn't work when I tried to copy and paste, unfortunately.

@3: The DNR page has it as Lake Smokium.
Posted by Eli Sanders on August 22, 2012 at 10:10 AM · Report this
Simac 5
There's a Salish (Lushootseed) keyboard to make typing such words easier:…

When the first Europeans and Anglo-Americans came to the area in the 1880s and earlier, they came up with anglicized spellings like "Tulalip" for "dxʷlilap"; I imagine that if the name "nəxʷx̣áʔəy" had been spelled by those same settlers, they'd have come up with something like Noowhyeye.
Posted by Simac on August 22, 2012 at 10:12 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 6
What most people would rather have is a phonetic iPad or Droid app that sounds out the Salish or other native WA tribal word or phrase.

So that they at least could hear what it's supposed to sound like.
Posted by Will in Seattle on August 22, 2012 at 11:15 AM · Report this
Cascadian 7
I would like to see a preference for Anglicized versions of native names whenever possible. The native names are distinctive and more appropriate in most cases than the obscure British bureaucrats and blundering European conquerors that are often honored. But you can't expect millions of residents to use a pronunciation system that is foreign to everyone except a few hundred native speakers and scholars.

First up, Mount Tahoma instead of Mount Rainier. Rename the entire length of the Duwamish/Green River to the Duwamish River. There's no common native name for the Columbia River, so let's just call it the Oregon River (and move the counties that contain it to the state of Oregon.) "Whulge" is a bit ugly for Puget Sound, so I might make an exception there.

On a related note outside of the scope of this commission, we should also rename Pierce, Thurston, Mason, and Jefferson counties after major rivers to Puyallup, Nisqually, Skokomish, and Hoh counties. (King can stay now that it honors MLK.)
Posted by Cascadian on August 22, 2012 at 11:37 AM · Report this
It's Lake SMOKIAM. Please check the spelling.
Posted by Terrileedee on August 22, 2012 at 11:44 AM · Report this
Simone 9
I'd like to be on this committee.
Posted by Simone on August 22, 2012 at 5:02 PM · Report this

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