What’s in a name?

So, last week Denali had its name restored, after more than a century of being inexplicably called Mount McKinley. And except for a few Ohioans, nobody really found this change objectionable. McKinley had nothing to do with Denali, nor Alaska. Additionally, he was decidedly middle-tier as far as presidents, mostly notable for being assassinated leading to Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency.

Still, because renaming a natural landmark is somewhat rare, we’ve been besieged by dozens of thinkpieces about Denali. Many of these are easily discarded and forgotten. (Some exist only to criticize Obama, regardless of his actions, so such opinions aren’t worth consideration, even if they aren’t spouting out-and-out falsehoods like Denali being the “Kenyan” word for black power.)

But amid all these are a number of articles positing that maybe we should be restoring names of other landmarks to original, Native American names.

It’s a worth conversation to have, in my opinion, because the relationship between the largely white American populace and the Native Americans who were displaced and outright killed during American expansion is brimming with friction. While name restoration isn’t going to solve everything, it would be a positive gesture.

Granted, most names aren’t nearly as egregious as naming Denali after McKinley. Indeed, the people most familiar with the mountain, Alaskans and mountaineers, invariably called it Denali regardless of the official name. So this is less a name switch but more an official acknowledgement of what the accepted name actually is.

In many other cases, it’s not quite as clear. Also, Native American names are very often used for states, cities, rivers, lakes, and, yes, mountains. But in other cases, the Native American names have been pushed to the side. And the now official names are often a bit head-scratching.

So, one common suggestion is that Mount Rainier should have its name restored to reflect Native American heritage.

The name Rainier was given by George Vancouver, who named many things in the Pacific Northwest during his expedition in the 1790s. Vancouver’s process seemed to be upon seeing something neat that needed a name, to pick out one of his friends. So we got Hood and St. Helens and Baker and Rainier for mountains, all of which were members of the Royal Navy.

All fine and dandy. Much like McKinley, Rainier is named after a man who had literally nothing to do with it. He was a naval officer who never explored the Pacific Northwest, never saw the mountain that bears his name, and never even came to what is now Washington State. A restoration of the Native American name wouldn’t be a problem, except for a little awkwardness of beers and baseball teams that bear its name.

The weird thing about these thinkpieces that posit that Rainier should have its name restored is that they almost always just mention “efforts to restore the Native American name” and then do not mention what that name is at all. Any mainstream news outlet, be it CNN or Buzzfeed, just glosses over that part.

Even a petition that was sent to me about whether I’d be in favor of the name restoration never mentions what that name is.

And that boggles my mind. Because it’s not like finding the original name is difficult. The name is used with abandon in the local area. Numerous roads, a school district, and even an entire city bear the name. Hell, it’s even mentioned on Wikipedia as literally the first thing after it says “Mount Rainier”.

It’s Tahoma. Or Tacoma.

While efforts to restore the name are probably doomed, it’s agonizing that journalists couldn’t even do some basic, easy research to mention what name is attempting to be restored.

“Restore the original name!”

“Okay, what is it?”

“Eh…” *shrug*

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