Here’s what’s driving the proposed name change to Mount Washington

A local started a petition, calling for a name change to Mount Washington. Courtesy of Mount Washington Observatory

By Stacy Milbouer

November 27, 2023

What’s in a name? For one New Hampshire citizen — everything. ­­

Easton resident Kris Pastoriza has petitioned the federal government to change the name of Mount Washington, named after the first president, to Agiocochook, its original Abenaki name, meaning “home of the great spirit.”

In an op-ed in InDepthNH, Pastoriza, the former chair of the Easton Conservation Commission, wrote she is proposing the name change because “George and Martha Washington engaged in slavery.” She drew attention to New Hampshire law passed last year making May 21 Ona Judge Staines Day, honoring the woman who was once a slave to the first president and his wife and escaped to freedom in New Hampshire.

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names is in the process of a stakeholder review on the matter but New Hampshire officials and citizens are offering opinions in the meantime.

Earlier this fall, eight state commissioners and the executive director of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department wrote letters of opposition to the federal board. Their concerns included a negative effect on tourism, safety issues, and state tradition.

Sarah Stewart, the commissioner of the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, said she was concerned about unintended cultural consequences beyond safety, including an impact on the mid-19th century White Mountain art movement.

According to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, any citizen can propose a change to an existing name or spelling, of a natural feature or to correct the location of a named feature “for a compelling reason and evidence of support for the change.” 

The proposed name change has its supporters too. So far, 461 people have signed a change.org petition in support of the change.

In the “reason for signing” section of the petition, one signer wrote, “I am Abenaki and we are taking our placenames back.”

“This seems like the only right thing to do for the dignity of people that were here long before we ever laid eyes on the White Mountains,” another signer wrote.

Over a quarter of a million people from all over the world visit the 6,288-foot Mount Washington every year according to the White Mountains Visitor Center. From there, on a clear day, it’s often possible to see into five states — New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York and Canada.

Other mountains in the United States have undergone similar name changes. Mount McKinley in Alaska was changed to the native Alaskan Koyukon name, Denali, “The Tall One,” in 2015. 

Author

  • Stacy Milbouer

    Stacy Milbouer is an award-winning journalist and has covered New Hampshire for many publications including the Boston Globe, New Hampshire Magazine, and the Nashua Telegraph.

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