Settling the 'which Vancouver?' question

Washington state's Vancouver is considering a slight but significant name change
Washington state's Vancouver is considering a slight but significant name change

Some kids have two mommies, but Cascadia has two Vancouvers, which causes confusion. Vancouver, BC is known world-wide, and Vancouver, WA is mostly known as a growing suburb of Portland, Ore. Some residents of Vancouver, WA are interested in re-branding their city, distinguishing it from their better-known neighbor to the north.

The Vancouver Columbian has a story on the issue of "re-branding" Vancouver as "Fort Vancouver," the earlier name for the settlement and the famous trading post so important to the history of the Northwest. Depending on the outcome of today's election, the Vancouver city council might have enough members to support putting the naming issue on the local ballot for a public vote.

The pro-Fort Vancouver folks argue that it would distinguish the two cities with the addition of a few letters, it's historic, and it would be relatively easy to implement. Opponents think it's unnecessary and changing signs, etc. could prove costly. Also, it's inaccurate: Vancouver is not a fort. The current mayor of Vancouver is opposed, saying that economic development will soon make a switch irrelevant. Mayor Royce Pollard is quoted in the Columbian bursting with boosterism: "In 10 to 20 years, Vancouver, B.C., will be looking over its shoulder at us." Fort Vancouver was first with the name, by the way, founded in the 1820s; the city of Vancouver, BC wasn't incorporated until the 1880s.

On the other hand, when it comes to promoting business and tourism, Vancouver, WA always has to first explain that it's not Vancouver, BC. (Washingtonians know this problem too, always having to distinguish to outsiders the difference between Washington State and Washington, DC.) The latest buzz-word in place naming is "re-branding." Having a unique name an identity is an important sales tool and it can also suggest subtle differences. North Dakota once considered dropping "North" which sounds remote and cold. The new Salish Sea designation in the Pacific Northwest, while not a same change, gained support because it was an effective way of "branding" a tourism region that looks like a hodgepodge of salt-water islands, straits, and sounds.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.