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There’s no push to turn Mount Washington into Agiocochook

Last modified: 9/2/2015 12:35:43 AM
Alaska’s Mount McKinley will officially become Denali, the Native American name by which it has long been known, but that doesn’t mean we should anticipate driving up New Hampshire’s highest peak on the Agiocochook Auto Road any time soon.

Nobody has ever tried to change Mount Washington’s name to Agiocochook, the name used by people living here when European settlers first arrived, said Ken Gallager, the state’s geographic names coordinator with the Office of Energy and Planning.

Gallager would know. He’s the starting point for anybody who wants to change the official name of a mountain, stream, lake or other geographic feature in New Hampshire, a decision that ultimately rests in the hands of a federal body called the Board of Geographic Names, which is part of the U.S. Geological Survey.

There is, however, something of a precedent for the idea.

In 2011, a New Hampshire hiker named Steve Perry successfully petitioned to have a rocky prominence on the state’s highest mountain with no previous name officially called Agiocochook Crag.

The crag is about 500 vertical feet below the summit, located near the Mount Washington Auto Road and the Nelson Crag Trail.

Perry said he petitioned for the change because over the years of hiking around the summit, “I kept noticing a bump, a little peak, that I couldn’t find a name for on any maps.”

“Every other bump on that mountain and most other mountain has a name, so I thought I’d try to give it one,” he said. “I didn’t actually think it would actually go through. I thought, just for the fun of it I’ll try to name it, see what happens.”

To his surprise, the change was readily accepted by the Board of Geographic Names. He didn’t even have to testify in support.

To Gallager’s knowledge, no geographic feature of any kind in the state, whether mountain, lake, river or other body, has ever been changed from the name given by Europeans to the name used by Native Americans.

There have been some renamings or attempts to rename mountains – including an unsuccessful effort to change Mount Clay into Mount Reagan, and the 2010 move that turned Adams 4, a peak on Mount Adams, into Mount Abigail Adams. None of those, however, has involved Native American names.

This issue came up because on Sunday, President Obama announced that Mount McKinley, the highest point in the U.S., would drop the name of the 25th president, who never visited Alaska and had no connection to the mountain, and take on the native name Denali, which means “the high one.” The national park in which the mountain resides has been called Denali for three decades and for years there have been efforts in Alaska to drop the Mount McKinley name.

There hasn’t been any similar effort in New Hampshire.

Mount Washington was given its name in 1784 by a federal geology party, and has been widely accepted although Agiocochook, which means “home of the great spirit,” is also used. Henry David Thoreau, for example, referred to the peak as Agiocochook when writing about travels in New England.

Perry, the hiker who originated the name Agiogochook Crag, says he wouldn’t mind seeing the whole mountain renamed.

“Personally, I like the idea. It would be recognition that there was a name already in existence, and it has a much more spiritual meaning,” he said.

But Perry has no plans to push for such a change, adding in what is probably an understatement: “I’m sure that it would be very controversial.”

The U.S. Geological Survey page for Mount Washington says it has had many unofficial names over the years, including Sugarloaf, Waumbekket-methna, and the unlikely sounding Twinkling Mountain of Augosisco.

For whatever reason, few prominent mountains in New Hampshire have native names. Most notable is Mount Passaconaway, named after one of the best-known leaders of the Penacook Tribe, and Mount Tecumseh, home of Waterville Valley Resort. Both of those names have been the official name ever since official names were adopted, said Gallager – which is a little odd in the case of Mount Tecumseh, since he was a leader of the Shawnee, a tribe with no connection to New Hampshire at all.

In contrast to mountains, Gallager said, lots of bodies of water in New Hampshire have Native American names. They range from Lake Winnipesaukee to the oft-confused Piscataquog and Piscataqua rivers, which despite similar names are separated by more than 50 miles.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313, dbrooks@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)


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