Denman Island: What’s in a Name?
“Names chosen for geographical sites carry history, traditional environmental/ecological knowledge, navigational information, teachings … Names also embody a sense of belonging to a place, coexistence with the natural world and the longstanding relationship between a People and their place; they anchor the past with the present.”
Denman Islander Verna Isbister ponders geographical site names around Denman Island.
Our human brain has been hardwired to create language and name the world around us. Whether it’s the privilege of naming our children, pets, boats or land, people seem to take seriously this act of naming. Parents often spend endless hours thinking of a name for a new child and reading baby name books to choose just the right name that may carry a special meaning or family ancestry. A person’s name can shape and define them. Years ago, when my husband was having surgery, we learned that his surgeon’s name was James Bond. We instantly felt relieved. With a name like James Bond, what could possibly go wrong!
Bob Dylan’s 1980 song, Man Gave Names to all the Animals, speaks of a Creator who invites us to co-create and participate in the naming of the world around us. Maybe, the Creator’s plan was that if we named a thing, then we might love and care for it more. Naming something can also signify giving it a blessing.
In May 2020, Bonnie Henry was honoured and given the Gitxsan name, Gyatsit sa ap dii’m, meaning “one who is calm among us.” During the ceremony in Hazelton, a leader said, “It was clear it was an all clans ceremony … the people thanked her so much for her work and obviously her (Gitxsan) name certainly reflects that.” This given name reflects her character.
As I drive around Denman Island, I’ve noticed that many people have also named the land and their homes. Some of these unique and lovely names describe the setting: Arbutus Ridge, Cliffside, and Maple Grove. Some describe a state of being: Last Laff Lodge, Hilltop Magic and The Lazy Extension. Some name our local animals: Otter’s Rock, Fat Cat Inn and Heron Rocks and some names provide family histories: Orkney Farm, Palmer Paradise and Grieder’s Corner. These names express a sense of connection to the land.
The K’ómoks and Pentlatch First Nations first lived on this beautiful island and gave it a toponym that described its location: Taystay’ich or Sla-dai-aich means “inner island.” This island was protected from the wind and waves and provided an abundance of food and forests.
“Names chosen for geographical sites carry history, traditional environmental/ecological knowledge, navigational information, teachings … Names also embody a sense of belonging to a place, coexistence with the natural world and the longstanding relationship between a People and their place; they anchor the past with the present.” (https://www.ictinc.ca/blog/the-relationship-between-indigenous-peoples-and-place-names)
I was very moved to see that the totem erected at Fillongley in Oct. 2018 has a beautiful emblem of a swan on the back of the totem. What an honouring and magnanimous gesture for the carver to include his link to the Swan name. It gives one pause to consider how we name, honour and lift up the people who raised this Guardian pole. May we be as generous of heart! Is it time for us to respond in kind and place a name for “the Inner Island”, chosen by the local Indigenous People, on our signposts?
During these uncertain days, we are invited to “be kind, be calm, be safe”. Each day, we have an opportunity to bless, support and encourage each other.
What’s in a name? How we name ourselves, others and our world is important. Our names connote personal meaning, history and identity. We are being invited to be thoughtful, respectful and to consider how we name and rename people and places.
May we find ways to honour each other and the land where we live.
by Verna Isbister
Published in The Islands Grapevine, July 2, 2020
For more about Denman Island, BC, go to VisitDenmanIsland.ca