The nature of names
Many Peninsula landmarks dubbed for enduring features This may look like a blank landscape, but every feature has been named by someone. This body of water is Quilcene Bay, named for the tribe that lived on its shores and traveled its waters. Quilcene Bay empties into Hood Canal, named by British explorer George Vancouver for a British admiral, Lord Samuel Hood. The mountain in the middle is Mount Walker, named for Charles Walker, a civil engineer who began surveying the area in early 1890s. The snowy ridge in the distance is Rocky Brook, named by white settlers and loggers. Photo by Viviann Kuehl By Viviann Kuehl The mix of names on the peninsula reflects our history, but it seems more of a tangle than a tapestry. By combing through written sources, we’re able to cull a thumbnail sketch of some origins of our local place names. The catch, of course, is that Native Americans had an oral history and no written language, so Europeans were the ones writing things down, and they had a hard time figuring out local tongues. There were two main linguistic branches — Salishan or Coast Salish (including Central Salish [Klallam and Twana], and Tsamosan [Quinault]), and Wakashan (Makah) — and plenty of tribal dialects at the time of white discovery in the mid-1700s, along with a Chinook jargon to allow communication between people who spoke dif-
ferent languages. Europeans had no previous experience with any of them, and these languages contained sounds not found in English, posing a challenge to understanding as well as scribing. Languages tended to blur together in their written accounts and gave rise to vague attributions that were sometimes improvised. Those many years ago, too, people weren’t particularly concerned about spellings in an age when spelling was still on its way to being formally standardized, making it harder for historians to sort out names. Even today, we retain two spellings of the word in Quileute and Quillayute. Now one is used for the tribe (Quileute), and one for the river (Quillayute), valley and school, but their source is the same tribe. The names of the northern peninsula counties, Clallam and Jefferson, reflect the two main naming sources, Native American and European.
Natives had names for locales that figured in their lives; the first European explorers had a habit of naming the places they saw for appearance, for members of the crew and for folks at home. Whether from appearance, use, people or mixups, place names become part of landscape and memory. They can come from different languages, change over time and can be downright surprising.
Rivers are one of the most enduring features of landscapes; they draw people to them. Many of the peninsula’s rivers are named for the tribes who lived along them; however, since there were several languages spoken, with sounds not used in English and spellings in English by English speakers were approximations, the pronunciations are likely changed from the originals.
Winter 2017 LOP 17