The Original Names of 10 U.S. Landmarks
Last month, President Obama officially “renamed” Mount McKinley, restoring the moniker Alaska Native tribes have used for centuries: Denali. Meaning “the high one” or “the great one,” Denali is just one of many natural formations that were given new names after they were "discovered." Here are 10 others that may be ripe for restoration.
1. Mt. Rushmore
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Before sculptor Gutzon Borglum decided the granite mountain would be perfect for 60-foot-tall president heads, the Lakota Sioux referred to the Black Hills range as “Six Grandfathers.” It came by its current name in 1884, when New York attorney Charles E. Rushmore was sent to the area to review legal titles on various properties. He was told that this one didn’t yet have a name, but “Rushmore” was as good as any.
2. Devils Tower
The monolith in Wyoming’s Bear Lodge Mountains is sacred to many different tribes, and they all have different names for it, including “Bear’s Tipi,” “Bear Peak,” “Bear Lodge,” and “Tree Rock.” In 1875, Col. Richard Dodge received what is now believed to be a bad interpretation and thought it was called the “bad god’s tower,” which was later modified to Devil’s Tower, then Devils Tower.
3. Mt. Hood
This Oregon stratovolcano had a name long before European explorers happened upon it in 1792. Though Native Americans called the landform “Wy’east,” British naval officer Lt. William Broughton later named it after Samuel Hood, an admiral in the British Navy who fought against the colonies in the Revolutionary War. Samuel Hood never even saw his namesake mountain.
4. Mt. Rainier
Similarly, Mount Rainier is named after Peter Rainier, Jr., another British naval officer who did his best to thwart the colonists during the American Revolution. Native Americans called the highest mountain in the Cascades “Tahoma,” “Takhoma,” and other similar variations.
5. Chimney Rock
Well, here’s one that probably won’t be getting its original name restored anytime soon: Native Americans referred to this famous landmark as “Elk Penis.” The half million “prim and proper” travelers who passed by on their Oregon Trail trek came up with the more mundane name.
6. Delicate Arch
This natural sandstone formation in Utah’s Arches National Park was so-named in 1933 by Frank Beckwith, the leader of the Arches National Monument Scientific Expedition. But before they dubbed it “Delicate,” local cowboys looked at the shape and referred to it as “The Chaps” or “The Schoolmarm’s Bloomers.”
7. Lake Superior
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The “Gitche Gumee” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote about in “The Song of Hiawatha” isn’t just fiction—it’s how the Ojibway people referred to what we now know as Lake Superior. It’s believed that Longfellow picked up the “Gitche Gumee” spelling from Henry Schoolcraft, a scholar known for researching Native American cultures. You’ll also see it spelled gichi-gami, gitchi-gami or kitchi-gami. The phrases all translate to something like “big sea” or “huge water.”
8. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite, which means “those who kill,” is named after the tribe that once called the area home. But the Yosemite people had another name for the scenic expanse in California: Awooni or Owwoni, which meant “large mouth.” They believed that looking down into Yosemite Valley was like looking into the gaping maw of a bear.
Bowie Snodgrass via Wikimedia Commons //CC BY 2.0
Shiprock, a 7177-foot peak located in San Juan County, New Mexico, is a sacred site to the Navajo. According to their tradition, the formation represents a giant bird that carried the tribe to the region many centuries ago. As you might imagine, they don’t refer to it as “Shiprock.” Their name for it is “Tsé Bitʼaʼí,” or "winged rock."
10. Pikes Peak
Magnus Manske via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.5
Though Zebulon Pike eventually put his stamp on this Colorado icon by declaring that no man would ever reach its summit, the Ute already had a name for it: "Ta-Wa-Ah-Gath" or “Sun Mountain Sitting Big.”