The Other Washington has finally given us an excuse to change the confusing name of our state. I suggest “Cascade”.
The opportunity comes from a bill passed by the House in Congress to make Washington, DC, the 51st the state, which will be called “Washington State, Douglass Commonwealth”. It’s for Frederick Douglass.
Not only does this give the proposed state the luxury of not having to change its heading – it would still be “Washington, DC” – but it honors the first slave president and a black abolitionist, rounding up all 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 are named after a man who never went west of the Appalachians and died when we were largely unexplored by Europeans. Washington literally couldn’t have found Washington on a map.
Our territory was initially going to be called Columbia, which made a little more sense, except Congress decided that Columbia had already been taken by DC and that “Washington” should be used instead. Which didn’t make sense.
Did I mention it was Congress? That our capricious nickname was suggested by a congressman from that place of enlightenment, Kentucky? In a bill signed by a president named Millard Fillmore?
As a native of Washington, I receive the pride of the state. I sang “Washington My Home” with my elementary school class at the Washington State Fair, for heaven’s sake. But despite some of the country’s most glorious geography, our name derives no benefit from it, making us the only unimaginative state named for a president. It’s like Marilyn Monroe’s name is Millard Fillmore.
George Washington gave his name to 31 counties, 241 townships, 57 towns and neighborhoods, 11 universities, five great bridges, countless parks, 322 schools, endless streets and highways, a giant sequoia, several mountains, a battleship and a roundabout in Warsaw, Poland. He will not be missed.
Lest we think state names are sacrosanct, note that researchers still disagree on the origin of the coined “Oregon”. Supposedly the name of the “Great River of the West,” Oregon has been attributed to words loosely related to Spanish explorers, French fur traders, Native Americans in the Midwest, and even a tribe in Connecticut.
“Idaho” was simply invented by a deposed delegate from the future state of Colorado. George Willing wrongly claimed that it was an Aboriginal word meaning “jewel of the mountains”. When his own territory did not accept this flimflam and went with Colorado, the counterfeit was applied to the new panhandle territory.
I never liked explaining to strangers – that is, anyone east of the Rockies – that I am from The Other Washington, just as I had to explain that I was from The Other Vancouver when I lived across the river from Portland. I have psychic scars.
Why not have a name that sells the state, instead of obscuring it?
Cascade comes from a mountain range that stretches from border to border and cuts our paradise in two. Perfect! It originally came from the Columbia Falls, flooded by the Bonneville Dam. Historical! It makes you think of waterfalls. We could have an interesting flag!
Try it: Seattle, Cascade. Bellingham, Cascade. Yes, it looks like an Amtrak train, but that’s not a bad thing. It announces our scenic allure. It puts hair on your chest, that is, if you want it.
The people of Sequim are going to scream no, it’s not working, wild mountains! But Sequim? Come on.
There are other possibilities. Cascadia has become widely accepted, but it takes a lot of syllables. What if we miss?
Tahoma is a native word for Mount Rainier, again spot on. But “Tacoma, Tahoma” is a mouthful – though fun to say three times very quickly.
Evergreen does not describe a third of the state. Sorry, Washtucna.
Salish, a name applied to a language group of Indians in the Pacific Northwest, works wonderfully for the Salish Sea around the San Juan Islands. But it comes from a Montana Blackfoot word and feels spongy for a stern Boeing-Microsoft-Amazon fortress like ours.
Colombia? Columbus did not “wake up” in 2021.
Olympic is too Greek. Humptulips? Pysht? No.
But Cascade? Tourists should be chased away with a broom.
It would probably take a state constitutional convention to change the name, but that would be fun, with politicians raging and delegates protesting. I hear hyperventilation now. We could sell T-shirts.
Yes, universities can keep Washington. But “University of the Huskies” would be more descriptive.
So it’s Cascade. Or, we could just make up a name that sounds great, like Idaho! There are many nomenclatures to inspire us such as Klickitat, Nooksack, Chuckanut, Mazama, Skookumchuck, Zillah, Point No Point, Palouse and Sedro-Woolley.
Don’t call us that 51st place, Back East.