Barrow, Alaska, the U.S.’s northern most city voted to change its name to the traditional Inupiat Eskimo name. During the October 4 vote, the decision came down to a tight race of 381 in favor and 375 against the name change. The name will revert to the name of Utqiagvik (pronounced oot-GHAR-vik).
Barrow is the largest city of the North Slope Borough and is located above the Arctic Circle. The city has a population of just nearly 5,000 people. Barrow was named for Sir John Barrow, the 2nd Secretary of the British Admiralty in 1826.
The Inupiat or an Inuit people are native to Alaska. They are culturally divided into two regional hunter-gather groups: the Tagiugmiut (sea people) who live near or on the north Alaska coast and the Nunamiu (land people) who live in the interior of Alaska.
Bob Harcharek, Barrow mayor, said the name change “reinforces the cultural identity of the people.” The process to revert to the original name began in August by Harcharek’s youngest son, Qaiyaan. This is not the first time that an Alaskan community changed its name. The village of Numan Iqua, once called Sheldon Point, approved the name change in 1999. Qaiyaan Harcharek hopes that using the traditional name of Utqiagvik will begin “healing” from the early days of missionaries. Just last year, the U.S. Department of the Interior changed the name of Mount McKinley to Denali. It is the highest mountain peak in North America.
In other parts of the country, there are ongoing efforts to rename other landmarks. Those in Wyoming are trying to rename Devils Tower National Monument to Bear Lodge. In South Dakota, a proposal to rename Harney Peak to Hinhan Kaga “failed at the state level,” according to CNN. Others in Washington state are debating whether to rename Mount Rainier or not, though it will not be discussed soon.
Naturally, there were opponents to the name change. Speaking to FOX News, William Phillips understood why people voted to change the name but believes they did not understand the practicality of it. Also voted on October 4 was the resolution to change the wording on city stop signs to “nutqagin” in Inupiaq, according to the Alaska Dispatch.
Resolution writers hoped the change would encourage the use of the Inupiaq language. There is some debate, however, on what Utqiagvik means. According to The Olympian, some say it means “a place where snow owls are hunted” while others say the name means a place for gathering potatoes. Whatever the meaning of the name, 45 days after receiving notification from the city, the name change will become official. For more CDA News, follow our tweets on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
By Cheryl Werber