By Any Other NameBy DAVE KIFFER
November 11, 2017
I recently got pulled into the millionth argument over whether to call locals "Ketchikanders" or "Ketchikanians."
Of course, "locals" simply refer to themselves as "locals."
That is in the time honored tradition in which pretty much every indigenous tribe has called itself some form of "the people." Other folks are called something else, but each group seems to call itself "the people." Go figure.
But since it would confuse everyone else if we officially called ourselves "the locals" we end up straining to come up with a collective noun. This isn't our problem alone. Other cities in Alaska find themselves in similarly linguistically fraught straits. Most just add "ites" to their town name and call it good (Juneau-ites, Homer-Ites, Kaktovik-ites). But that doesn't work so well for Fairbank or Yakutat and certainly not well for Utqiaġvik. At any rate, it is certainly far too plebian for Ketchikan.
So we end up with people awkwardly tossing around "Ketchikanians" or "Ketchikanders." Neither of which sounds remotely worth repeating in polite company.
I thought I had figured it out when I helpfully suggested "Wetnecks" a few years back.
I mean, that pretty much covers it, right?
If I keep tossing it out, eventually it sticks right?
After all, I must have mentioned banana slugs as one of the major attractions of the Ketchikan wilderness dozens of times and people, of course, laughed.
But hey, I recently read one of those internet promotional puff pieces about what a great place Ketchikan is to visit and the story mentioned how great the wildlife is here and noted "bears, deer and.....wait for it....banana slugs."
It's like we are the Serengeti Plain and there are huge herds of banana slugs sliming their way across the muskeg. Kinda makes one teary eyed, eh?
But as usual, I digress.
Unfortunately, since one seems to be picking up on "Wetnecks" I have to come up with some other collective noun to describe us. Speaking of Muskeg, one of my high school friends once though that we should all be called "Ketchikeggers." Of course that WAS back in the day when there was a liquor license for EVERY two people in town.
So neither "Wetnecks" or "Ketchikeggers" is probably ever going to get that First City Boosters Seal of Approval. There is another option.
It came up pretty much out of nowhere when some one cornered me at the grocery story with the "Ketchikanders" versus "Ketchikanians" conundrum.
I paused for a minute and then intoned in my best New Age Healing Crystal voice.
"People of the Mist."
It worked. The person who had asked my opinion paused and thought for a minute.
"Yeah," she said "I LIKE that!"
Yes, it is a little long, perhaps. Probably a little too elaborate to be used in official documents or newspaper stories, but useful nonetheless.
Not sure exactly how it came to me.
Probably from a book by about western Glacier Bay by our old family friend Frank Caldwell. He called that area "The Land of the Ocean Mists" 'a title I have always liked.
Of course, it turns out that "People of the Mist" is not original, although it is not well known.
There was a lost civilization adventure novel written in 1893-94 called "People of the Mist."
Of course it had absolutely nothing to with Alaska, according to the internet research I was able to do. It was set in Africa. Although apparently the climactic scene in the book involved escaping from trouble by sliding down a glacier on a large rock. As there are few glaciers in Africa, perhaps the explorers had confused Alaska for Africa? It's not like those old dime store novels were intended to be realistic.
In the same book, one of the characters was bitten by a deadly snake (definitely not Alaska there) and the other person managed to suck the snake venom out of the person's leg, thereby saving their life.
Also turns out there was a second book titled "People of the Mist." It came out in 1997, although I had never heard of it. It was part of a series of books about novels about different Native tribes and their lives before Contact.
Hey, you have to love a book that has the following sentence "Knowing that her granddaughter, Red Knot, loves High Fox does not keep Hunting Hawk from promising her in marriage to Copper Thunder."
That my friends is literature!
Anyway, the author(s) of that later version of "People of the Mist" has also written such classics as "People of the Wolf," "People of the Fire," "People of the Earth," "People of the Silence," "People of the Moon," "People of the Morning Star," "People of the Nightland," and "People of the Songtrails" among numerous others. It seems like "People of the Muskeg" must be coming up soon.
But back to "People of the Mist."
It does have a certain "regal" quality to it that "Wetnecks" or "Ketchikeggers" does not. And is certainly not as awkward as "Ketchikanians" or "Ketchikanders."
And perhaps we should take a cue of Shakespeare, who alas never visited Ketchikan as far as I can tell, when he said that people are too concerned about names with his "A rose by another name would smell just as sweet" song and dance from Romeo and Juliet.
Of course this time of the year, when the final salmon are rotting in the creeks, "People of the Stench" would be a bit more accurate.
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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dave Kiffer ©2017