The shíshálh Nation has applied to the province to change the names of some Coast locations, in line with the she shashishalhem language. That’s a great idea. A memorable new indigenous name is a wonderful way to recognize First Nations heritage.
For example, “Sechelt” was derived from the shíshálhs’ name for themselves. Although “Sechelt” is a mispronunciation of “shíshálh,” it stuck. It may be that it reminded people of sea shells and was easy to pronounce and remember.
Some similarly-derived names have fared differently in linguistics. For example, people have long debated the pronunciation of Tsawwassen, which was derived from the indigenous word “sc̓əwaθən.” Is the “t” in “Tsawwassen” silent, so it’s pronounced Sah-wa-sen, or is “s” the silent consonant, making it Tah-wa-sen? The city of Delta discussed the issue and decided the official pronunciation would silence the “s.”
Still, less than a month ago, a friend gave me directions to a place she called “Sah-wa-sen.”
Sooke had a similar problem, but it simplified the indigenous name with an easier spelling. After the Hudson’s Bay Company arrived on Vancouver Island, the First Nations’ “T’sou-ke,” morphed into Sooke. The name—easy for most Canadians to pronounce—remains today.
Now the shíshálh Nation proposes that Saltery Bay be called “skelhp,” and Madiera Park be called “salalus.” These two names are fine, even if improperly pronounced.
“Skelhp” might prompt the mispronunciation “scallop,” in line with the tasty seafood. “Salalus” might bring up the word “salute”–or even better, acknowledge Canada’s other official language with “salut.”
But residents of Wilson Creek, take note: a mispronunciation of your town’s proposed name, ts’ukw’um, could be “Suck ‘em.”