What’s in a name? As it turns out, a lot

By Washington, Our Home|April 10, 2012|Central Washington, History, Legislature, Puget Sound, Western Washington|3 comments

As I tweeted last week, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources’ Committee on Geographic Names is meeting to consider changing the names of a number of Washington State locations, the most prominent being Soap Lake in Grant County. Someone had the bright idea of renaming it “Lake Smokiam” despite the local community having spent th0usands of dollars marketing the lake’s alleged medicinal properties. Needless to say, Soap Lake residents – along with yours truly – are opposed to the renaming suggestion.

And it doesn’t stop there. There are nine other proposed name-changes being stewed over by committee members as I write this. Fortunately, the committee is open to public comment about these proposals so landmark lovers like myself aren’t left without recourse. First, I’ll go down the list of proposals and offer my take on each one. Below you’ll find the contact information to make your opinion heard as well.


Suquamish Harbor
Jefferson County
Township 27 North, Range 1&2 East (click for map)
-Proposal submitted by the Suquamish Tribe to change the spelling of Squamish Harbor.

Washington, Our HomeWOH: I love this suggestion. Charles Wilkes named it Suquamish Harbor in 1841 after the tribe that lived there. Some D.C. pencil-pusher screwed up the name on an official document in 1869 and it’s been Squamish ever since. The tribe is asking for the official name reversion, and I’m all for it.

Mill Pond
Clark County
Township 1 North, Range 3 East, Section 47
 (click for map)
-Make official the name Mill Pond

Washington, Our HomeWOH: Residents of Clark County who live near the small pond which feeds water to the nearby mill have been calling it Mill Pond since as early as 1884. The name is used in official land titles, deeds and other legally binding documents and someone realized the pond wasn’t officially recorded as Mill Pond. Apparently, it didn’t really have a name before. I’m all for this one too.

Lake Smokiam
Grant County
Township 22 North, Range 26 & 27 East
 (click for map)
-Change the name of Soap Lake to Lake Smokiam

Washington, Our HomeWOH: This one has a bit more impact than a tiny, man-made pond or trickling stream. Soap Lake is one of the more well-known and recognizable icons of Grant County. While the Indians who lived in the area prior to the arrival of the Europeans may have called it “Smokiam,” meaning “healing water,” the fact is that now – in 2012 – reverting the name of the lake to its native moniker could have a negative economic impact not seen with some of the other suggested name changes in this list. I’m all for honoring the native history of our great state, but not at the expense of real, present-day dollars and cents. This one’s a no-go.

Bryant Hill
Skagit County
Township 33 North, Range 5 East, Section 36
 (click for map)
-Change the name of Mount Washington to Bryant Hill

Washington, Our HomeWOH: Applicants indicated that the new proposed name would recognize the history of the area by naming it after the Bryant Lumber and Shingle Company, which was active on that slope between 1892 and 1906. They go on to state that it would be an appropriate counterpart to nearby Stimson Hill (ostensibly logged at one time by the Stimson Lumber Company) and also alleviate confusion with another Mt. Washington in the vicinity. There is certainly an overwhelming historical precedence for naming landmarks after the businesses which operated there (DuPont, Washington, for example). I say, go for it.

Ebey Estuary
Snohomish County
Township 28, 29 & 30 North, Range 5 East
 (click for map)
-Change the identifier for Ebey Slough to Ebey Estuary

Washington, Our HomeWOH: So-named for Isaac Ebey, an early Washington Territory pioneer and the first permanent white resident of Whidbey Island. Residents of Snohomish County who live near the slough (pronounced “slew”) say the technical definition of the word no longer fits the area. A slough is stagnant swamp, marsh, bog, or pond. The area in question here is actually an offshoot of the Puget Sound (Possession Sound, to be precise) between Everett and Marysville. Nobody uses the word “slough” anymore anyway, so changing it to the more pleasant-sounding “estuary” – where one can imagine geese and ducks and great blue herons spearing fingerlings – is probably a good idea. Frankly, if they’re looking for name change suggestions I’d throw the nearby Marysville Sewage Lagoon into the hat.

Jordan Ridge
Snohomish County
Township 29 North, Range 8 & 9 East
 (click for map)
-New name

Washington, Our HomeWOH: Between Arlington and Granite Falls in Snohomish County is Jordan Road, which turns into Holmstad Road. As you’re driving north or south on that stretch of pavement you’ll pass a long ridge on the west side that runs the length of the road. It’s buttressed on the opposite side by Dahlberg Mountain.  The ridge, which has no official name, climbs 1,400 vertical feet in a very short distance. Residents want to name it Jordan Ridge after the nearby town of Jordan, a mining mecca in the 1920’s which operated on the east side of the ridge. I have no problem with that.

Reflection Creek
Snohomish County
Township 28 & 29 North, Range 6 East
 (click for map)
-New name

Washington, Our HomeWOH: I like this story. Rather than a corporation or nonprofit organization or local Indian tribe or whathaveyou, this name change was suggested by a mother and daughter, the latter of whom grew up on the creek with her sister where they spent a lot of time pondering their future while gazing at the reflection. According to Google, the creek is already named Crawdad Creek…but this isn’t Louisiana. This is Washington, and our natural beauty is reflected in the hearts of the people who live here. Reflection Creek, while not exactly original, is a great suggested name change. 

Sultan Ridge
Snohomish County
Township 29 North, Range 8 East
 (click for map)
-Change the name of Blue Mountain to Sultan Ridge

Washington, Our HomeWOH: The City of Sultan, Washington, is named for an 1800s-era Indian chieftain named “Tseul-ted.” While I might have called him “Ted” if I was forced to abbreviate his name, the pioneers of the area instead mispronounced it “Sultan” and the name stuck. More importantly, however, is the attempt to reduce the confusion over the numerous Blue Mountains in the area, including one in the Cascades foothills, one in the Olympic range, and of course the Blue Mountains of the Palouse. As I stated in my comments about Soap Lake, I’m all for honoring our state’s great Indian heritage, and this suggestion is a great way to do that.

Wayback Brook
Snohomish County
Township 27 North, Range 6 East, Section 33
 (click for map)
-New name

Washington, Our HomeWOH: This geological feature is invisible on a Google map, and only runs about a block and a half between two properties on the edge of Echo Lake in Snohomish County. The applicant states that several drainage ditches in the area come together at one end of his property and the resulting flow empties into Echo Lake at the other end. He wants to name it Wayback Brook because it starts “way back” on the higher ground of his property. Sounds good to me.

Rufus Creek
Whatcom County
Township 6 North, Range 41 East, Sections 7, 17, 16
 (click for map)
-New name

Washington, Our HomeWOH: This one was by far the hardest to find on Google maps, and frankly I’m not even entirely sure I got it right. If my link is off, it’s only by a few hundred yards or so. Apparently a Whatcom County gentleman wanted to leave a history of the area to his grandkids, so the story goes like this: “Rufus lived on Cable Street with his family. He also owned a piece of ground directly across from present-day Stimpson Reserve. He’d go up and down Lake Louise Road in a ’48 Dodge pickup. His son, Buford, spoke to me once and said Rufus’ dream was to clean up the woods. His barn on Lake Louise Road is still standing. Rufus was simply the grandfather of the area…a quiet, reserved man. Hopefully naming the creek after him will be a memory I can share with my grandkids…that Grandpa Rufus had a trout stream and a pretty waterfall named after him.” Now who can argue with that? God bless Whatcom County.

Do you have a comment for a particular proposal that you would like to share with the Committee on Geographic Names? There are two ways to comment:

1. Send an email to the Committee on Geographic Names. Please include the name of the proposal in the title of your email.


2. Download the Committee on Geographic Names Comment Form and mail to:

WA State Committee on Geographic Names
PO Box 47030
Olympia, WA 98504-7030

Please note that all correspondence to the Committee on Geographic Names is considered public information.

If you would like to be on the Committee on Geographic Names mailing list for future proposals in your area, please send an email to the Committee on Geographic Names with your:

Name (or organization you represent)
Counties or Area of Interest
Mailing Address
Phone #

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About Washington, Our Home

My name is Erich R. Ebel. I was born in Spokane and moved to Colville, Bothell, Tacoma, and back to Spokane again, all before I was 14. I attended Washington State University in Pullman, graduated and moved back to Spokane. In 2000, I enlisted in the United State Army Reserve and spent six months at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Then it was back to Spokane. After six years, it was time to get out and see the world. And what better place to start than Las Vegas, Nevada! I met my beautiful wife while working at KVBC-TV in Las Vegas, and after three years of suffering in the extreme heat and undeniably long nights, we were called back to Washington State. Landing first in Lakewood, we suffered for a year in an uncomfortably old and small apartment before a shooting and a kidnapping in our complex strongly urged us to leave town. After relocating to Lacey, we have now settled and spend as much time as we can exploring the fine facets of this beautiful state. From Tenino to Tonasket, Brewster to Blaine and Vader to Vancouver, I have enjoyed every moment of this great state.


  1. Great, thanks for sharing this article post.Really looking forward to read more. Will read on…

  2. I’d imagine the residents in Skagit County would have a little heartburn over Snohomish County residents trying to rename a landmark in their county. Growing up in the Finn Settlement along Lake Cavanaugh Road in Skagit County, I know my family and those familiar with the area will fight tooth and nail to maintain Mt. Washington’s name. While it’s peak may have “no real view,” the prominence of Mt. Washington looking up from Lake Cavanaugh Road is overpowering. As a former Skagit County resident, I truly hope DNR’s naming committee takes a pass on the renaming of Mt. Washington.

  3. Thanks for the comment! You can still send your opinion via e-mail to the naming committee (contact info is in the blog post). Good to have the feedback from someone who lives (or lived) nearby and who has a strong opinion about these things!

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