The renaming of Mount McKinley.

Lauret Savoy

By Keely Savoie

The names we use denote history, power, meaning, and memory, writes Lauret Savoy in a recent article for The Daily Beast. No surprise, then, that when President Obama restored to Mount McKinley its Native American name, Denali, some felt affronted by the symbolic shift of power—from the name of an American president to its traditional Koyukon Athabascan name.

Recalling Walt Whitman’s words that “names are the turning point of who shall be master,” Savoy notes that in naming and mapping territory, colonialists and their descendants “overprinted and appropriated older names, other views already there.”

The way place names are bestowed can affirm, erase, and assimilate cultures and histories; our colonial attitudes are enshrined in the words on our maps.

“If so,” writes Savoy, “the text on the surface is far from complete. A reader might try to look beyond ‘official’ terms for traces of other languages, other visions.”

“We all might try to remember that names are one measure of how we inhabit the world.”

Read the whole piece here.