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Paul Turner: Eastern Washington could gain respect with simple name change – statehood not required

Aerial view of Palouse Falls in 1961. (Spokesman-Review archives)
Aerial view of Palouse Falls in 1961. (Spokesman-Review archives)

We ought to abandon the “ern” and start referring to our side of the Evergreen State as “East Washington.”

Here’s why.

1. East Washington sounds like its own realm, not just part of a place dominated by far-away nervous people who spend much of their time stuck in traffic.

2. It might satisfy the separatist sentiment that occasionally surfaces in the form of ill-conceived calls for creation of a new state with a ruinously inadequate tax base.

3. What if, instead of being crazy – as many of us on this side of the Idaho state line sometimes suspect – Gem State residents actually had a good idea when they opted for “North” instead of “northern”?

Oh sure, this might cause some momentary confusion. Say, if you have a son attending the newly renamed East Washington University in Cheney or find yourself robustly admitted to East State Hospital in Medical Lake.

I think we could get used to it.

“Eastern Washington” has served us well. No question. But it sounds, well, a tad provincial.

Maybe it’s time for a change.

“East Washington,” on the other hand, sounds like an independent, free-thinking land where you climb down out of the rig and proudly survey your domain, secure in the knowledge that friends and neighbors won’t be offended by your callouses.

Western Washington can do whatever it wants, name-wise. Frankly, who cares?

Here’s the thing. Our underdog region, formerly known as Eastern Washington, has long endured as an afterthought in the shadow of the more celebrated, more populous other half of the state. We have been overlooked, underestimated and taken for granted by people who sometimes look down their noses at us.

Now simply making the switch to “East Washington” won’t automatically change that. Still, it would make a statement.

It would suggest we are inhabitants of an area proudly independent in spirit and creatively self-defined.

We are not in comparison country. We get the normal amount of rain. We get the normal number of sunny days.

In East Washington, we do things our way.

Yes, we partly rely on tax money from the west side of the state. And yes, some of us over here are mighty grateful for the electoral influence of voters in Seattle and environs. But I’m not suggesting we wouldn’t maintain our fond ties to and affection for the great state of Washington.

We most certainly would. It’s just that by declaring our home to be “East Washington,” we would make a claim to being our own entity and not just an extension of a state with its deepest cultural roots far from the wheat fields.

Now you can drive yourself batty parsing the sematics of place names. Eastern? East? What’s the difference?

Ask someone who has lived in West Virginia or South Dakota. Or West Texas or South Florida, for that matter.

Of course, as I said, this isn’t about statehood. It’s about recognition and the importance of what you call yourself.

We would still send legislators to Olympia. We would still welcome friends and family driving over from Tacoma or Everett.

You would not have to go through customs to re-enter East Washington.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Wouldn’t this name tweak invite power-brokers on the west side of the state to pay even less attention to us than usual?

I doubt it. Our distance from their idea of the center of the universe would still be about 280 miles.

Besides, saying “East Washington” would not be something we would do to impress others. It would be for us.

It would say, we aren’t just an appendage. We’re us, occasionally special people in an always special place.

And when we did find ourselves in Seattle and it was time to come home, we could eagerly declare that we were ready to head “Back East.”

You know, East Washington, right next to North Idaho.


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