Book Review: Oregon’s Names

Oregon’s Names:  How To Say Them & Where Are They Located:  An Illustrated Pronunciation Guide, by Bert Webber

As a relative newcomer to Oregon, from time to time I seek to burnish my local knowledge through reading [1].  Perhaps a lifetime of being a stranger in strange lands and seeking to overcome the difficulty of being an outsider by acquiring local knowledge that others may take for granted leads me to enjoy books like this, but this book is definitely a practical one and a surprisingly humorous read as well.  This is by no means a new book, and it looks back to a time when there were more smaller communities and fewer large ones that swallowed up their neighbors.  Additionally, this book has some wry comments directed at, for example, Californians, that demonstrate the extent to which the identity of Oregonians relative to their southern neighbors is formed in part through linguistic differentiation, evidence of the somewhat brittle state of our union and the tendencies of the United States to feature more unhappy relationship between neighboring states than may be expected for a nation as powerful as our own.  Be that as it may, this is a savvy book to read for those who wish to speak like a local.

In terms of its contents, this book consists of a  bit more than 100 pages of alphabetically organized place names in Oregon.  Some of them are nearly entirely forgotten, having been swallowed up by larger neighbors, having their name changed, or having faded into insignificance.  Interspersed among the various place names are stamps from various post offices, pictures of bridges, or maps that show the old railways that used to connect the towns and neighborhoods of Oregon together.  Over and over again the writer points out the quirky pronunciation of various areas, noting that Del Norte is pronounced “Del Nor-te” only by nonlocals (41) and that Nice (pronounced “nees”) was on Alsea Bay but frequently moved (?!) (74).  This is definitely an odd book, but for the reader who wants to get a sense of Oregon’s names and the importance of various places historically, as well as a look at a bygone era when Oregon was smaller and there were more places that vied for attention, this is certainly a worthwhile little book to read that should not demand much attention from the reader who enjoys dictionaries.

To be sure, it is not clear exactly what the ideal audience for this book is.  This book is not easy on the eyes, and in fact it is rather ugly from a design standpoint.  Even so, this book has a good value historically speaking.  In fact, I wonder in reading this book if this work would not benefit greatly from an updated edition.  Names neglected by the author or areas that have grown in size to significance in the decades since this book was published could be added in an expanded version which may make use of not only railroad history but also maps of the Oregon Trail and other roads as well as modern highway and even walking/biking trails.  Given the large number of people from outside Oregon who continue to move here, there is clearly still a great deal of use for a book like this one to give those who are not locals some knowledge of the quirky local pronunciation of towns and cities, as that is one of the surest ways that locals are offended by strangers.  Savvy people know that it pays to blend in and one of the fastest ways to blend in is to have a good ear for the way that locals say places and things.

[1] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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