What's in a name?
A closer look at the naming of Northern locations

Anne-Marie Jennings
Northern News Services

NNSL (Aug 10/98) - William Shakespeare once wrote, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

In the North, sometimes a place's name is spelled differently by different people -- and sometimes places goes by completely different names.

Since 1987, beginning with Iqaluit (once known as Frobisher Bay), nine communities have changed their names to more traditional designations.

In September, Broughton Island will become Qikiqtarjuaq, while the community of Snare Lake will be known as Wekweti.

But who decides on what the correct spelling is for a place name? Who has the final say on whether it's Lutselk'e or Lutsel'ke? How does a community go from Eskimo Point to Arviat?

Randy Freeman is the territorial toponymist, the person in charge of researching official and traditional names of Northern communities.

"Before 1984, the federal government was in charge of approving community names," he says. "Very little effort was made to contact the communities before a decision was made."

He says the standardized place-name spellings developed by the language bureau are what he relies on when working on renaming a community.

"There are people who are very literate in the communities, but are using an older system of language," he says.

"We try to work closely with the communities to make sure the standardized spelling is used because that's what being taught in the schools."

But regardless of what the standardized, government-approved spellings may be, the final decision to accept a spelling remains in the hands of the community.

"When we working with the community of Lutselk'e, the traditional spelling has a barred "L" and a number of accents," Freeman says. "The community would only allow the barred "L", so that's the spelling which was finally approved."

Freeman says that up until six years ago, he would travel all over the North himself to conduct the research into the traditional names. But new community-based programs have meant he now spends more time in his office.

"If I was still working that way, it would take me 200 years to get to every community."