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How Washington's tallest peaks got their names

Several Washington state's famous peaks were named by one man.
Mount St. Helens

The Obama administration's decision to rename Alaska's Mount McKinley to its original native name is bringing a mixed reaction.

The mountain was officially named McKinley in 1917 to honor Pres. William McKinley and many people want that name retained, but many others disagree, saying Alaskans have always called it Mount Denali.

Three of Washington state's most famous peaks were renamed by Captain George Vancouver.

In 1790 Captain Vancouver was sent to the Northwest Coast of North America by Great Britain to help resolve a dispute between the British and the Spanish over claims to the Pacific Northwest.

In April 1792, Capt. Vancouver entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca and "named every island, mountain, waterway and point of land in sight – 75 in all," according to HistoryLink.

That month, he named Mount Baker in Whatcom County after his Third Lieutenant, Joseph Baker.

Nooksack Indians called Mount Baker Kollia-Kulshan meaning "White, shining, steep mountain." Clallam Indians used the name " P-kowitz," meaning "White mountain."

In May of 1792, Capt. Vancouver named Mount Rainier after his friend, Rear Admiral Peter Rainier.

But Washington's highest peak was known by Native Americans as Tacoma, "Tahoma," "Takhoma" "Ta-co-bet," "Ta-co-be," "Ta-co-pe," or "Tu-ah-ku."

Then in October of 1792, Capt. Vancouver named Mount St. Helens for British diplomat Alleyne Fitzherbert, whose title was Baron St. Helens.

Native American names for Mount St. Helens were "Loowit" or "Louwala-Clough," which means "smoking mountain."

Mount Adams in Yakima County, the second-highest peak in the state, is named for former U.S. President John Adams. Its Native American names are "Pahto" and "Klickitat."

The other Washington state mountain to be renamed is Glacier Peak in northeast Snohomish County, the most isolated of the five Washington state volcanoes. The present name was given by early prospectors and was adopted by government surveyors.

Native American names for Glacier Peak include Dahkobed, Takomed, and Takobud.

Mount Shuksan and Mount Spokane have retained their Native American names.

Sources: Washington Place Names database, U.S. Board of Geographic names, USGS, HistoryLink.

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