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Seattle nickname: A few modest proposals

Seattle: Looking less than emerald, aren't we? Credit: RAM Electronics/Flickr

Several weeks ago, columnist Knute Berger flung down a gauntlet, boldly decreeing in Seattle Magazine and Crosscut: “Seattle needs a new nickname.”

Berger scrolled through our historic monikers, including “New York Alki,” “Pittsburgh of the West,” “Queen City,” “Jet City,” “Lesser Seattle” and “the Emerald City.” The latter, Seattle’s most recent official nickname, emerged from a contest sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and promoted by Ric Trent who, at the time, was ad director for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

At the time of the Emerald City makeover in the 1980s, I was a P-I columnist. When I wrote a few discouraging words about the new nickname, my column was quickly spiked by management. Never mind that Seattle is less of a sparkly Emerald City and more of a misty, pea soup city. No mere scribe dared counter the commercial forces that later promoted the region as “Metro Natural” or coined the unlovely phrase: “Say WA.” Say what?

As a longtime observer, perhaps I can be pardoned for wanting to respond to Berger’s call. Here’s a list of suggestions to consider:

Rain City: Seattle boosters hate to mention the word “rain,” but instead of pretending there is no precip (aka. liquid sunshine), I say let’s flaunt our moist Marine climate. While much of the country suffers from searing drought, Seattle is wrapped in a fluid, life-nuturing mist. Think of how our rain-soaked climate preserves our youthful complexions.

Sovereign of the Salish Sea: With the Alaskan Way Viaduct due to be dismantled in 2016, Seattle should turn its face to the Salish Sea and to Elliott Bay, the sweetest deep-water harbor in the world. The glacier-carved harbor is our number one asset, a waterfront and port that, unlike dozens of competitors, never needs dredging and in nautical miles, is closest to our Asian trading partners. 

Westminster (Dog Show) of the West: Seattle now has more cats and dogs per capita than children. No reason the city shouldn’t become known for its army of canines, its many off-leash dog parks and its well-appointed doggy day cares and grooming salons. It is a well-kept secret that the way to meet a mate in Seattle is to acquire a four-footed friend and do meet-ups in one of the city’s dog parks.

Process City: Seattle is well-known for its dedication to process. Comedians often make fun of the city’s lengthy decision-making, but this deliberative approach, more often than not, protects Seattle citizens from regret. In the 70s, city planners set out to bulldoze the Pike Place Public Market for a parking garage. A citizen referendum saved the city’s pioneer market, destined to become its number one attraction.

Cloud City: This is not an entirely original thought — it was heralded in a recent article in the Puget Sound Business Journal, but the double meaning is fitting for a region that is already associated with overcast skies and tech companies that are moving applications from in-house servers into private cloud infrastructure. As PSBJ reported, Seattle is a central place where the cloud is happening.

These are merely a handful of possible nicknames for Seattle, intended to spark discussion about the city’s true identity. On the bright side, we’re already better off than other Northwestern cities. Take Tacoma, for instance. They call it the “City of Destiny,” a name that sounds as if Destiny has just ridden in after swindling a group of cowhands. And then there’s Bellingham, known as “The City of Subdued Excitement.” Or Yakima, sometimes called “The Palm Springs of Washington.”  Better still is Walla Walla, “the City so nice they named it twice.” And perhaps my all-time favorite is Kirkland's 1926 choice: “Gateway to Seattle."

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