Questions by Deb Akerstrom
Feliks Banel is a broadcaster and historian who focuses on Pacific Northwest history, geography, cartography, and pop culture. He presents stories about Northwest history twice each week on KIRO Newsradio, and is host of the weekly radio program and podcast "Cascade of History" heard live Sunday nights from historic Magnuson Park on SPACE 101.1 FM. Prior to joining the staff at KIRO, he created the history series "This NOT Just In" for KUOW Public Radio. Feliks also produces history documentaries for the Seattle Channel. He lives in Seattle.
We caught up with Feliks, speaker for the April 8 Saturday Speaker Series program, "All Over the Map: Surprising Places and Place Names of the Evergreen State,” for a bit of Q&A.
RHS: When the founders of a town or city decide a name, do they have a complicated process to go through to make it official with the state?
Feliks: I'm not sure what it's like nowadays, but the Post Office was the main arbiter of place names in the 19th century and early 20th century. A community could apply for recognition from the US Postmaster for a specific name, but that name could be rejected if it was already in use somewhere else in the state or if it was somehow confusing.
RHS: So many city, town, and area names are Native American, what other inspirations have there been … founding families, natural amenities, or historic information?
Feliks: A big one is ego! People like to name things for themselves! Also, many of the maritime names bestowed by British explorers like Captain Vancouver or Americans like Charles Wilkes are for fellow naval/military men.
RHS: Are there any local written or unwritten rules (prior to the state) behind officially placing a name? What is the process?
Feliks: The US Board on Geographic Names is the part of the Department of Interior in charge of maintaining the massive database of US place names now. Before that, it really was about the Post Office and the need to be able to circulate the mail. When a city or town incorporated (in territorial days and then the state era), that was, of course, important for being able to create a local governing entity with local control over law enforcement and other civic services (unlike unincorporated areas which fell under county jurisdiction).
RHS: Which locale in Washington best represents its name?
Feliks: Tough question! I can't pick one, because what I really like are the layers of names that relate to Indigenous, British, Spanish and American influences over the various eras here―it's like inadvertent poetry!
For more info about this April 8 Saturday Speaker program: tinyurl.com/RHSAllOverTheMap