Tom, Dick or Harry: Naming King County's new water taxis

The county's new mosquito fleet will run between downtown, West Seattle and Vashon Island. What should we call them?
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The county's new mosquito fleet will run between downtown, West Seattle and Vashon Island. What should we call them?

The King County Ferry District is inviting the public to suggest and vote on names for the system’s two new water taxis that will run between West Seattle, Vashon Island, and downtown. (You can see their design here, the West Seattle blog has the scoop here.)

You can submit your suggestions online until Friday, July 18; at the end of the month, the public will be able to vote for the finalists.

The names need to be historically appropriate, not offensive and not for a living person (that's bad luck for the boat's namesake if they ride on it in their lifetime, apparently). Oh, and two words preferred. I suppose they want to save paint.

The character of the vessel itself can be taken into account. (These new taxis resemble modern athletic shoes, so the county could make some money by selling the naming rights to Nike!)

Seriously, I think this is an opportunity to balance a bias of the Washington state ferry system. They’ve effectively decided to give their new boats only Native American names. Don't expect any more Rhododendrons, Vashons, or Evergreen States. (The last of which just retired after 60 years of service, by the way.)

While I understand why that's a nice emphasis, it limits the opportunities for public commemoration of other aspects of our maritime legacy on Puget Sound. It passes by a huge hunk of heritage. The county’s new “Mosquito Fleet” could help with the balance.

So, I have two suggestions. One I feel strongly about.

There is no better name for a Vashon ferry than the "Betty MacDonald," the famed Northwest bestselling author of "The Egg and I" and other books that turned our region into a national sensation, and Hollywood movie franchise (the Ma and Pa Kettle films).  She also wrote the classic children’s series, Miss Piggle Wiggle.

More importantly, MacDonald (1908-1958) was a brilliant, funny writer who was way ahead of her time on the feminism front. And, for a time, she lived on Vashon and commuted to work in Seattle. That part of her life resulted in a great read, "Onions in the Stew," a book that any modern reader fantasizing about life on an island can relate to. It also documents the difficulties of juggling family, marriage, kids, work, neighbors and writing. My full case for a "Betty MacDonald" boat can be found here, where I pitched it as a name for one of the new state ferries.

The second suggestion I’m running up the flagpole is "New York Alki." As many people know, the first name given to the settlement on Alki Point in West Seattle was "New York," by one of the community's most ambitious founders, C.C. Terry, who opened a trading post there and announced the city's intention to become as big as its namesake.

The name brought some derision from other settlements on the Sound, most of whom were way ahead of our new hamlet. Olympia, Steilacoom, Port Townsend all had better cases to make for being the new New York. "Alki" was humorously amended to New York to indicate a little more realism, Alki being the Chinook jargon word for "by and by," which also was the Washington Territory's motto, as it is still the state's.

"New York Alki" goes beyond two words, I know, except that New York is one word, really. I mean, would we say, "New" or just "York?" It's a single entity. And the name fits because it marks a couple of things. One is Seattle's commitment to an urban future from the very beginning; its embrace of out-sized ambition; its desire to be the great port of the Pacific; and, still, our desire to get things like transportation right by having, for example, water taxis so people can leave their cars at home, or do without.

"New York Alki" would be a perfect fit, especially pulling into West Seattle, and would certainly raise questions in the minds of tourists and visitors that any local should be happy to answer.

There's no mention of putting a purple mustache on the taxis, but one day, perhaps there will be more naming opportunities if private "ride shares" can be found to do for boat commuting what Lyft and Uber have done for autos (the Coast Guard permitting). Until then, we need to seize the opportunity to make sure the new King County vessels carry fitting names that tell our story well.


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Knute Berger

Knute Berger

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