So Alaska's Mt. McKinley is gone. It was the answer to the trivia question, “What is America's highest mountain?”, but no more. The correct answer henceforth is Denali.
I have to admit when I first heard that President Obama had renamed Mt. McKinley, I was irked. How can he do that? Why is he doing that? What did President McKinley do to offend him?
Yet, after five minutes of that I started to come down from being seriously irritated to asking, “Why do I care?” I've never seen Mt. McKinley, and I imagine I never will. The name Mt. McKinley is merely an answer to a trivia question – one I've never gotten wrong, it's true, but I suspect that given time I will develop the coping mechanisms to learn to accept that Mt. McKinley is now Denali.
Besides, what did President McKinley do – other than get assassinated – to deserve such an honor? If anyone wants to provide me with a history lesson to enlighten me on McKinley's greatness, please do so below. Seriously, I'm all ears, but not interested enough to seek out the answer myself.
So a president about whom I know nothing is losing the honor of having the country's highest mountain named after him. I think I can cope with that.
But what of the President just changing the name? Can he do that? If he can will this now be a political issue in years to come?
I mean, Mt. McKinley isn't the only feature of the American landscape that has not got a native name. What of the Grand Canyon? The Hudson River (and hundreds, thousands of others), Mt Hood and Pike's Peak (hundreds and thousands of mountains too), Long Island, the Florida Keys, the list is endless. They all had native names before they were named as we now know them. Are they all up for possible renaming now? Will the '16 candidates be asked about this issue?
And, of course, if a president has the authority to simply rename parts of our landscape as he chooses, then what's to stop a future president changing a native name to a non-native one? President Trump, say, could rename Manhattan (native name) Island as Trump Island. Or President Christie could rename the Hackensack (native name) River as the Springsteen River. Again, the possibilities are endless.
I'm not sure it was a good precedent that President Obama set over the weekend.
From what I gather the president changed the name as a gesture of goodwill to the native people of that part of Alaska. That sounds great, but if he really wanted to make such a gesture why not just say, “Name that mountain whatever you want and we'll OK it.”
They probably would have chosen Denali anyway. That is, after all, the name they still use for the mountain. Apparently the native people have never really been keen on the whole Mt McKinley thing. They've never stopped calling it Denali and, so, in all likelihood, they would have gone with Denali anyway.
But maybe, just maybe …
Maybe they would have seen an opportunity to make a buck. The Koyukon Athabascans might have opted to follow the lead of professional sports teams, colleges, metropolitan areas all over the country. They could have sold the naming rights – knowing they could go on calling it Denali regardless – to some big American (or other) company.
Mt McKinley could have become Mount Pepsi or AT&T Mountain or United Mountain or Sony Mountain. Heck, they could have sold the naming rights to the people of Ohio, whose elected representatives are reportedly most displeased that their native son, McKinley, has been shunted aside. Denali could have remained as Mt McKinley indefinitely in exchange for a sum agreed between the State of Ohio and the native people of Alaska.
The president denied the Alaskan natives that chance with his proclamation.
On a related note, I've lived in Ireland for 24 years yet I can't think of a single feature of the landscape that had an English/British name imposed on it to replace a native name. Sure many of the names were anglicized, but that's not the same thing. Maybe there are rivers or islands or mountains in Ireland that had English names that were replaced after independence and I just don't know about them.
All I could come up with when I heard about the demise of Mt. McKinley were those street names and place names that the British had given to some of Ireland's towns.
Cobh (pronounced cove) was made into Queenstown by the British and made back into Cobh after independence and, similarly, Kingstown is again known as Dun Laoghaire (Dun Leary).
There is one name I know of where the post-independence change didn't work: Charleville in County Cork was changed to Rath Luric, but I've never heard anyone refer to Rath Luric. The name is still Charleville.