Trade names:

the toponymy of the Northwest coast from 1778 to 1792

by Katie Fraser


The toponymy of the Northwest Coast that was established in the latter years of the 1700ís is very useful to understanding the history of that region. The British place-names of the Pacific Northwest illustrate the rich influence of the economic interests of Britain in that area that were conveyed through such explorers as James Cook, George Vancouver as well as traders such as Charles Barkley, George Dixon and James Strange. These British captains who voyaged to the Pacific Coast that stretches between Oregon and Alaska, between 1778 and 1792, left traces of their time spent on the Coast in the form of place-names. These toponyms are richly varied and designate many different features of both the land and water. However, many of them are similar in that they were originally chosen based significantly on the influence of both the prospect and emergence of trade in the area.

Despite the wide variety of places given place-names by British expeditioners in the late 1770ís to early 1790ís, many of the chosen toponyms are similar in that they were affected by the strong British interest in trade in the Northwest Coast region at that time. Some of the variety of features named are capes (which included points and peninsulas, in the Eighteenth Century sense) as well as islands, mountains, volcanoes, archipelagoes, inlets, bays, sounds, coves, and straits. The trading influences which affected the naming of these places began with Captain Cook, in his voyage along most of the Northwest Coast in 1778. Since Cook was commissioned to begin looking for a Northwest Passage at the about the arctic circle, his trip around the northern Pacific shoreline yielded only superficial names. However, ironically, the publishing of his voyage did facilitate trade with the East as it was intended to, although through the fur trading of the 1780ís.