THE NAMING OF KETCHIKAN ALASKA
When I was young and asked, “What does Ketchikan mean”? I was told Stinky Fish Creek. I was disappointed my hometown had such a pungent name. When Ketchikan lost it’s natural resource industry and began to rely on tourism for economic viability, those in marketing circles knew “Stinky Fish Creek just wasn’t going to make it. So it was renamed “Sound of Thunder on the Wings of an Eagle” or some such grand translation of the a named rock* which was in Ketchikan Creek for many years. It reportedly made a roaring echo when the creek was running hard. There was a rock with the same name at Lorring, a small village north of Ketchikan and the rock in Ketchikan’s creek was named after the rock in Lorring according to early reporting.
One can imagine the local natives trying to tell Caucasian analytical minds all about “White Spot on a Fin” which is what Keek Shan Han means. It could mean Orca or spawned out salmon. Orca could have been marketed if the marketers understood it meant that instead of stinky fish creek, alas. The Tlingit language is conceptual and referencial. Keek Shan Han tells the story of the salmon in a word, it refers to the depedencey of the Tlingit on the salmon run and the life it gives to the shore and beyond. The term, therefore, means LIFE (in capital letters). Imagine trying to wax poetic about life and the salmon to J.R. Heckman for example. So the Speaker just held his nose and indicated a salmon with a white spot on it’s fin would be aromatic spawned out marvel.
Mary Ida Henrikson, ©1997