This October 4th, the city residents voted to change the name of Barrow to Utqiagvik (oot-GHAR-vik); it’s traditional Iñupiat name which means “a place where snow owls are hunted.” It was a tight vote, 381 people voted for the name change, and 374 voted against it. The name Barrow was chosen by Frederick William Beechey, a cartographer, in 1825 and was named after Point Barrow, which was named for Sir John Barrow of the British Admiralty. The name change should become official 45 days after the lieutenant governor receives the notification of the name change request. Also as part of the request, the community has asked for state approval to change its stop signs to the Iñupiat word: Nutqagin.
The town formerly known as Barrow is the northernmost community in North America and was first settled by the Iñupiat people as far back as AD 500. Currently, its population is about 4,300 people. Dr. Bill Streever, notes in his 2009 book Cold: Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places:
Barrow, like most communities in Alaska, looks temporary, like a pioneer settlement. It is not. Barrow is among the oldest permanent settlements in the United States. Hundreds of years before the European Arctic explorers showed up, starving and freezing and succumbing to hardship, Barrow was more or less where it is now, a natural hunting place at the base of a peninsula that pokes out into the Beaufort Sea. … Yankee whalers sailed here, learning about the bowhead whale from Iñupiat hunters.
Some locals are concerned that it will cost the community too much money to populate the name change throughout the town including the need for residents to change passports, driver licenses, and many other documentation. Others are worried about the potential loss of “emotional capital” or recognition the name Barrow holds for tourism and even local businesses. But proponents believe the costs are outweighed by the benefit to the community in regaining another piece of their culture.
Qaiyaan Harcharek, the city council member who introduced the ordinance, noted in favor of the vote: “To do so would acknowledge, honor and be a reclamation of our beautiful language, which is moribund. [It will] promote pride in identity” and would “perpetuate healing and growth…” (ADN)
Mayor Bob Harcharek is quoted as saying: “It reclaims our beautiful Iñupiaq language.” (ADN)