The Whulge

Yikes, the Whulge is COLD water! But what other significance does it hold?

I’m a Whulger now. Just a beginner, but a Whulger nonetheless. I have joined the Whulgers, a loose group of Vashon Island residents who swim in the Puget Sound, otherwise known as the Whulge.

When the Whulgers gather, the big topic of conversation is the water temperature. It’s now hovering a little above 50° Fahrenheit (10° Celsius). In the words of a fellow swimmer: “that’s wicked cold.” For me, as a recent arrival from warmer climes, this adventure requires multiple layers of neoprene wet suit.

When I’m not preoccupied with fighting the cold, it intrigues me to consider that the ‘Whulge’ is a Native American term for the Puget Sound.  It was my husband who first informed me of the word origin. And, sure enough, Whulge, or Whulj, appears to be an anglicized version of the Coast Salish word for “salt water,” or “the water we know.”

Location naming, and re-naming, is an increasingly hot topic in our area. The Puget Sound, besides being originally known as the Whulge, was recently recognized as part of the Salish Sea. Re-named in honor of the Salish peoples, the Salish Sea stretches from the Puget Sound northward to Canada’s Strait of Georgia. A little further inland, there is a proposal to call the mountain currently known as Rainier by the native name of ‘Ti’Swaq.’

It is sometimes said that the act of naming involves taking power over the person, place or thing being named. If this is true, then what are the implications of the European names given over the past 150 years to our local land forms? And what are the implications of recognizing the original native terms? Instead of taking power, is there any hope for sharing it?

I say: bring it on. I welcome the restoration of the native names. I’m a Whulger now.