The Other Washington has finally given us an excuse to change our state’s confusing name. I suggest “Cascade.”
The opportunity comes from a bill passed by the House in Congress to make Washington, D.C., the 51st state, to be called “State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth.” That’s for Frederick Douglass.
Not only does this give the proposed state the luxury of not having to change its letterhead — it would still be “Washington, D.C.” — but it honors the slaveholding first president and a Black abolitionist, rounding all the political bases.
Yes, final passage is unlikely in the Senate, and yes, our state had the name first. So what? I’m happy to give it away.
We’re named for a man who never got west of the Appalachians and who died when we were largely unexplored by Europeans. Washington literally could not have found Washington on a map.
Our territory was initially going to be called Columbia, which made slightly more sense, except that Congress decided Columbia had already been taken by D.C. and “Washington” should be used instead. Which made no sense at all.
Did I mention this was Congress? That our wayward moniker was proposed by a congressman from that locus of enlightenment, Kentucky? In a bill signed by a President named Millard Fillmore?
As a native Washingtonian, I get the state pride thing. I sang “Washington My Home” with my elementary school class at the Washington State Fair, for heaven’s sake. But despite having some of the most glorious geography in the country, our name takes no advantage of it, making us instead the only state unimaginatively named for a president. It’s like Marilyn Monroe calling herself Millard Fillmore.
George Washington has given his name to 31 counties, 241 townships, 57 cities and neighborhoods, 11 universities, five major bridges, countless parks, 322 schools, endless streets and highways, a giant sequoia, several mountains, a battleship and a roundabout in Warsaw, Poland. He won’t miss us.
Lest we think state names are sacrosanct, note that scholars still disagree on the origin of the made-up “Oregon.” Supposedly the name of “the great river of the West,” Oregon has been attributed to words vaguely connected to Spanish explorers, French fur traders, Midwestern Native Americans and even a tribe in Connecticut.
“Idaho” was simply invented by a deposed delegate from the future state of Colorado. George Willing falsely claimed it was an Indigenous word meaning “gem of the mountains.” When his own territory wouldn’t accept this flimflam and went with Colorado, the counterfeit was applied to the new panhandle territory.
I’ve never liked explaining to foreigners — meaning anyone east of the Rockies — that I’m from The Other Washington, just as I had to explain I was from The Other Vancouver when I lived across the river from Portland. I bear psychic scars.
Why not have a name that sells the state, instead of obscures it?
Cascade is from a mountain range that runs border to border and bisects our paradise. Perfect! It originally came from the Cascades of the Columbia, drowned by Bonneville Dam. Historic! It brings to mind waterfalls. We could have an interesting flag!
Try it out: Seattle, Cascade. Bellingham, Cascade. Yes, it sounds like an Amtrak train, but that’s not a bad thing. It advertises our scenic allure. It puts hair on your chest — that is, if you want it.
Sequim people are going to shout no, doesn’t work, wrong mountains! But Sequim? Come on.
There are other possibilities. Cascadia has become widely accepted, but it does require a lotta syllables. What if we run out?
Tahoma is a native word for Mount Rainier, again bull’s-eye. But “Tacoma, Tahoma” is a mouthful — although fun to say three times really fast.
Evergreen doesn’t describe a third of the state. Sorry, Washtucna.
Salish, a name applied to a language group of Pacific Northwest Indians, works splendidly for the Salish Sea around the San Juan Islands. But it comes from a Montana Blackfoot word and sounds squishy for a stern Boeing-Microsoft-Amazon fortress like ours.
Columbia? Columbus ain’t “woke” in 2021.
Olympic is too Greek. Humptulips? Pysht? No.
But Cascade? We’d have to swat away the tourists with a broom.
It would probably take a state constitutional convention to change the name, but that would be fun, politicians fulminating and delegates demonstrating. I can hear the hyperventilation now. We could sell T-shirts.
Yes, universities can keep Washington. But “University of the Huskies” would be more descriptive.
So, Cascade it is. Or, we could just make up a cool-sounding name, like Idaho! There’s plenty of nomenclature to inspire us, such as Klickitat, Nooksack, Chuckanut, Mazama, Skookumchuck, Zillah, Point No Point, Palouse and Sedro-Woolley.
Just don’t call us that 51st place, Back East.