The living legacy of names

Culture wars in the National Parks.

The proportion of place name problem types varied among the parks. Each park’s scores (red line) are that park’s proportion of each problem type, scaled by the maximum proportion observed for each problem type among all the parks. The grey shape in each plot is the average score among the parks. Parks are ordered west (top left) to east (bottom right) 


Map of lands now called the United States (Alaska and Hawai‘i not shown to scale or geographic position). Each national park shown with a bar indicating the proportion of place names that originated from Indigenous or non-Indigenous language groups. Indigenous names include those categorized as appropriation. Non-Indigenous significantly outnumber Indigenous names, and the proportion of Indigenous names increases moving westward (see text for details)

The living legacy of names Summary

Words are monuments: Patterns in US national park place names perpetuate settler colonial mythologies including white supremacy Source paper

Chief Grier supports renaming Hayden Valley as Buffalo Nations Valley and changing Mount Doane to First Peoples’ Mountain; both are located in Yellowstone National Park. “To give place names to persons who authorized and who carried out the massacre of approximately 173 of my ancestors in 1870 on the Marias River, Montana is an atrocity that only perpetuates the illegitimate honor of persons that would be classified as war criminals,” he said.

This should make some apoplectic. I do not have a problem with it. In some cases, it is long overdue. I do wonder, however, how the proposed names above are not as political as the ones they are replacing.

I read the summary but not the full paper. It looks crammed with detail.

If they do replace some names, I hope they can come up with some as pretty as Denali and Nahanni.

As usual, open in a new tab to embiggen.

4 thoughts on “The living legacy of names”

  1. Leave it to the government to re-calibrate history through the lens of current political philosophy. Is this a belated apology, a striving for ‘Equity’, or a betrayal of history through sleight of hand? Depends, I guess on the current, dominant point of view.

    • All cultures do it. The perceived power shift is what gets some in a twist. It is telling that they chose another name with a political agenda versus a neutral one but it is a start. Even more egregious are all the place names with the N word on the map. I read an article that was good on it once. I may be able to find it, if need be. Place names around here have changed names in my lifetime. An ongoing process.


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