What's in a Name?:Rekindling Traditional Inupiat Place Names

Names are powerful. They tell a story, share histories or link a place to an event or a culture. They create an entryway into the identity of a person or a place.

Take a look at the map below. You may recognize places such as Shishmaref, Serpentine Hot Springs or Nome. However, before these names took hold on printed maps, the original inhabitants of the land had names for their local environment. These names were not written down, but used in everyday conversation and oral traditions.

The Qamani Interactive Map attempts to expand on the manuscript Qamani: Up the Coast, In My Heart, In My Mind authored in the mid-90s by Susan W. Fair in collaboration with Edgar Ningeulook. Through conversations, interviews, and ethnographic records, Fair and Ningeulook compiled Inupiaq placename data along the Seward Peninsula coast from Shishmaref to Cape Espenberg. Each placename on the map tells a story of the land’s ancestral history revealing pieces of Inupiat histories, ecological knowledge, observations, and lore.

Explore the map. Each point contains audio commentary from John Sinnok, a Shishmaref elder and culture bearer. His reflections highlight the fluidity and complexity of his Native language and traditional placenames.
Full transcript of the audio recordings on Qamani: Up the Coast, In My Heart Esri story map.

Last updated: August 3, 2018