“Elliott Way” just a placeholder name

A new street connecting Elliott Avenue to Alaskan Way as part of the viaduct replacement project is currently under construction. When I first heard in 2016 that they were planning to call it Elliott Way, I thought it was a wasted opportunity. I wrote on my personal Facebook page “This is an opportunity to commemorate someone, or something, new, rather than Jared, George, Samuel, or Jesse Elliott (apparently no one is sure just which Elliott the bay is named after)!”

However, as it turns out, “Elliott Way” is just a placeholder name, just as “E Frontage Road S” was for what is now Colorado Avenue S at the south end of the new 99 tunnel.

On Boxing Day 2020 I finally wrote to the Seattle City Council and the Waterfront Seattle Program letting them know how I felt:

“The bay, and its namesake (most likely midshipman Samuel Elliott of the Wilkes expedition that explored Puget Sound in 1841) already has Elliott Avenue named in its honor. Elliott was, of course, a white man. I don’t know what percentage of Seattle streets are named for white men (although I would be fascinated to find out, and may undertake that as a project for my blog on Seattle street names), but I’m sure it’s very high.

“I urge you instead to take this opportunity to name this street something else. The Duwamish people, for example, have Duwamish Avenue S named for them (actually more likely for the river, as Elliott Avenue was named for the bay, not directly for the sailor), but it is an insignificant street 2/10 of a mile long hidden under the Spokane Street Viaduct and the Alaskan Freeway. Perhaps Duwamish Avenue would be a better choice, if the tribe approved? Or perhaps the street could honor a non-white person associated with the history of Seattle’s waterfront? Frank Jenkins, perhaps?”

I honestly didn’t expect to hear back from anyone, but to my surprise Marshall Foster, director of the Office of the Waterfront and Civic Projects, wrote me himself on January 5, saying:

We completely agree that the naming of this new street is an exciting opportunity. “Elliott Way” has simply been a placeholder until we are closer to its opening. The Coast Salish tribes are an incredibly important part of Seattle’s history and culture today. We have actually been thinking along similar lines about how this naming could help to elevate their presence here, and have been in discussions with our partners in the tribal community about ideas very similar to yours. We expect to have a proposal for public discussion later this year.

I have to say, I’m pretty happy about this.

W Ruffner Street

This street, which runs, with interruptions, for 2⅓ miles from Queen Anne to just short of Elliott Bay in Magnolia (though it is platted for several more blocks west over the tideflats) is named, as I learned from the Ruffner Family Association, for Presbyterian minister William Henry Ruffner. A slaveholder who “advocated the gradual emancipation and colonization of the state’s African Americans”, he was also, according to Encyclopedia Virginia, “the designer and first superintendent of Virginia’s public school system.”

How did this “Horace Mann of the South” end up with his name on a Seattle street? Apparently, in addition to being an educator, he was also a geologist, and so was hired by Thomas Burke and Daniel Gilman (of Burke–Gilman Trail fame), two of the founders of the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railway, to spend just over five weeks in 1887 surveying the area, the results of which were published in the SLS&E’s promotional book A Report on Washington Territory two years later. When it came time in 1890 for the plat of Gilman’s Addition to the City of Seattle to be filed, Ruffner’s name appeared on the map. 

The Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern became part of the Northern Pacific Railway in 1892. Today, the Interbay Car Shop of the BNSF Railway, successor to the NP, is located at the corner of W Ruffner Street and Gilman Avenue W.

Ellinor Drive W

This short street in Magnolia’s Carleton Park subdivision is named for Mount Ellinor in the Olympic Mountains, which was itself named for Ellinor Fauntleroy, the fiancée of George Davidson of the U.S. Coast Survey, who named the peak in 1853. Nearby Constance Drive W is named for Mount Constance, itself named for Ellinor’s older sister.

Most of Magnolia’s streets follow Seattle’s cardinal-direction grid. Here, however, in the southwest corner of the neighborhood, they are laid out to follow the contour of the steep bluff that affords many streets a view of the Olympic Mountains, the Cascade Range, or both. 

Should Seattle rename its streets?

Since the killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, set off a wave of protests and demonstrations that has not yet abated, calls to rename streets dedicated to Confederate leaders have grown ever louder. Among them are Robert E. Lee Boulevard and Jefferson Davis Parkway in New Orleans; Confederate Avenue in Tyler, Texas; Stonewall Jackson Drive and Bedford Forest Drive in Wilmington, North Carolina; and Stonewall Jackson Drive and General Lee Avenue in Fort Hamilton, a U.S. Army base in Brooklyn.

In Montgomery County, Maryland, the county council has called for “a comprehensive review of all County owned and maintained street names and public facilities to determine all those named for Confederate soldiers or those who otherwise do not reflect Montgomery County values.” The pull-quotes WTOP News chose from the council’s letter were spot-on:

As we work to dismantle the structures that perpetuate racism, we must target the symbols that normalize and legitimize it. The names of public streets and buildings are not merely a reminder of the past; they are a very clear indication of who and what we value today.… We cannot recreate history, but we can decide how accurately we reflect it, and who we choose to glorify from it. The names of our buildings and streets should reflect the people in and on them, not threaten and intimidate them.

Calls for renaming Seattle streets haven’t been as loud — perhaps because we, fortunately, have none named for Confederates. In fact, we have both a Union Street and a Republican Street.

However, those honored by Seattle street names are not without their own issues. Without even considering the streets named for the settlers and developers who displaced the Native American inhabitants, there are:

Returning to the issue of settlers and developers, in 2008, I wrote “Is it wrong to have a Negro Creek?” for Crosscut. (Tl;dr: Yes, it is, and stringers don’t write their own headlines.) After discussing the Chelan County creek in question, I started wondering just where the line should be drawn. (I mentioned the other day to my friend Thomas May that if it came to light that Beorma was found to be an unsavory character we could hardly change the name of Birmingham.) I wrote:

As for the settlers, though men like “Doc” Maynard (of the International District avenue and alley) may have maintained excellent relations with the city’s original inhabitants, Seattle is also home to neighborhoods like Hawthorne Hills and Kinnear, which are named for men (Safeco founder Hawthorne K. Dent and developer George Kinnear, respectively) who saw fit to exclude non-whites from owning property in their subdivisions.

Yet to eradicate all possible traces of offense from the map seems to be a losing proposition. Kinnear’s story isn’t cut-and-dried: he also served as captain of the Home Guard during Seattle’s anti-Chinese riot of 1886, which militia prevented Seattle’s Chinese from being forcibly deported, as had happened the previous year in Tacoma. And King County is named for a slaveholder, Franklin Pierce’s vice president William Rufus deVane King, though the county and state governments have managed to “rename” it after Martin Luther King, Jr.

Case-by-case, as these issues come up, seems the only sensible way to go. I am brought to mind of Liverpool’s Penny Lane, which was forgiven its association with the slave trade on account of its Beatles-related fame. Blanket proclamations can’t help but run into trouble.

I still do largely agree with what I wrote, although the idea of a renaming that isn’t really a renaming is less objectionable to me now. (My issue with King County’s name wasn’t that I thought William Rufus DeVane King deserved the honor, but that nothing was actually changed — the county’s name remained King County, not Martin Luther King Jr. County.) I would say this to those who still would want to rename Penny Lane: consider it named for the Beatles hit rather than for James Penny. (However, as it turns out, it wasn’t named for him in the first place, so the issue is moot.)

What of Kinnear, though? Does he get a pass for defending Chinese laborers he wouldn’t want living in his neighborhood?

It makes you appreciate the system in Center City Philadelphia that much more — generally speaking, north–south streets numbered and east–west streets after trees.

So… besides Madison, Jackson, Stevens, Lane, and Kinnear — are any other Seattle streets ripe for renaming?

E North Street

Seattle has a number of streets whose names incorporate directions, such as Northlake Way, Eastern Avenue, Westlake Avenue, and Southern Street. But the one I drove by most growing up — and the only one to simply bear the name of a direction in its uncompounded, nominal form — is E North Street, which runs between E Montlake Place E and 24th Avenue E in Montlake, just south of the 520 interchange.

Two questions should spring to mind with a street name like this: North of what? and What happened to South Street?

Portion of Plan of Union City, 1869

The answer to the first question is north of where H.L. Pike had planned to dig a canal between Union Bay and Portage Bay.

And the answer to the second is that it seems to have been subsumed in Roanoke Street when the Glenwilde Addition was platted in 1925. But North Street’s name was never changed.

NW Locks Place

Seattle’s newest street name is no longer E Barbara Bailey Way but NW Locks Place — formerly the block of NW 54th Street that ran between NW Market Street and the entrance to the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, more commonly known as the Ballard Locks.

Ordinance 125947, passed by the city council in late September, was signed by the mayor the next week and went into effect a few days ago. As the Seattle Department of Transportation explained this summer, the name change stemmed from a request by emergency dispatchers: previously, there were two locations in which NW Market Street and NW 54th Street intersected; once in front of the locks and once over a mile to the east, where Market descends from Phinney Ridge. This name change will serve to eliminate any confusion about what is meant by “the intersection of 54th and Market.”

A similar change was made to Green Lake street names in 1961, when the various segments of Green Lake Way north of NE Ravenna Boulevard and N 72nd Street were changed to Green Lake Drive — previously, Latona Avenue NE, Sunnyside Avenue N, and Ashworth Avenue N (to name a few) had intersected Green Lake Way twice.

Interestingly, only the Lockspot Cafe’s address (3005) is affected by this name change. The other buildings fronting NW Locks Place have addresses on NW Market Street, and the address of the Ballard Locks remains 3015 NW 54th Street.

Expedia Group Way W

“Look! They’ve finally signed the W Galer Street Flyover!” I thought to myself the other day as I drove onto the Magnolia Bridge onramp from 15th Avenue W. “I wonder why they took so long?” (It was built in 2002.)

Then I saw the sign that directed drivers to take the flyover if they were headed toward Expedia Group Way W. Of course… it was because Expedia was moving their corporate headquarters from Bellevue to Interbay, and the first employees were scheduled to arrive this month.

It made sense for the private road — originally Amgen Court W after the campus’s previous corporate occupants — to change its name… but why to Expedia Group?

Yes, Expedia’s official name is Expedia Group — it’s the parent company not only of the eponymous online travel agency but of many other brands, including Hotels.com, Orbitz, Travelocity, Hotwire, and CheapTickets — but still. Wouldn’t Expedia Way W sound and look better? Adding the “group” makes the name sound much more corporate to my ear.

E Barbara Bailey Way

As of this writing, Seattle’s newest street name is E Barbara Bailey Way — formerly the block of E Denny Way between Broadway and 10th Avenue E.

Barbara Bailey, who died on September 1, 2018, was best known for Bailey/Coy Books, which she founded on Broadway in 1982. As Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan wrote,

Barbara’s commitment to action made her an early pioneer for LGBTQ+ rights. Her bookstores – B. Bailey Books and Bailey/Coy Books – were nationally beloved independent book stores that regularly brought communities together and hosted renowned authors. They were also safe and welcoming spaces for the LGBTQ+ community, particularly for those just coming out and during the height of anti-LGBTQ+ actions.

Barbara Bailey Way is one of five “festival streets” in the city of Seattle. 

Native names abide

Before white settlers came to to dzidzəlalič in 1852, before they came to əgwaliču in 1832, even before they first sighted the shores of x̌ʷəlč in 1792, the dxʷdəwʔabš were here, living at sluʔwił and šilšul, babaqʷəb and t’uʔəlalʔtxʷ, and paq’ác’ałčuʔ and səxʷt’ičib, by the lakes called c’alq’ʷadiʔ and sisałtəb and dxʷƛ’əš and x̌áx̌əʔčuʔ, and most of all x̌ačuʔthe lake — the smaller ones being fed by springs like liq’təd where the waters run red, the lake being fed by the river whose mouth was at ƛ’ax̌ʷadis, but one by one their names were replaced by the settlers, who though they named the city for siʔał and the river for the dxʷdəwʔabš nevertheless named places Pioneer Square for themselves, or Fremont for where they came from, or Brooklyn for that which they aspired to be, and while šilšul became Shilshole and liq’təd became Licton, other dxʷləšúcid names were left unwritten and hardly spoken for decades but still remembered — so let Carkeek remain Carkeek, but know that it was once and is still kʷaatəb, as Montlake is still stəx̌ʷugʷił, the Locks, which lowered x̌ačuʔ and x̌áx̌əʔčuʔ, still xʷiwálqʷ, and University Village still sluʔwił village, and celebrate that wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ now sits where Whitman and Stevens meet.


This piece (originally titled “Lushootseed names remain”) appeared as the first item in One-Sentence Stories: An Intriguing New Anthology of Stories Told in a Single Sentence, Book 2, compiled by Val Dumond in 2018. Apparently I was the first potential contributor to ask if the story could be non-fiction. There was a minimum length of 200 words — this comes in at 203.

The names are in the dxʷləšúcid or Lushootseed language, spoken by many of the Coast Salish Native American tribes in the Puget Sound region. They are written in the Lushootseed alphabet, which is based on the International Phonetic Alphabet.

I selected most, though not all, of the names by using the Burke Museum’s Waterlines Project map. They appear below, along with their translations and the current, settler-given names.

  1. dzidzəlalič — Little Crossing-Over Place — Pioneer Square
  2. əgwaliču — Extensive Sand Banks Over Which the Water Is Shallow/Big Tide/Long Run-Out — Sequalitchew/Fort Nisqually/DuPont
  3. x̌ʷəlč — Salt Water — Puget Sound
  4. dxʷdəwʔabš — People of the Inside (Elliott Bay) — Duwamish
  5. sluʔwił — Little Canoe Channel — University Village
  6. šilšul — Tucked Away Inside — Shilshole, one of two unchanged Native names within Seattle city limits
  7. babaqʷəb — Little Prairie — Belltown
  8. t’uʔəlalʔtxʷ — Herring’s House — West Seattle Industrial District
  9. paq’ác’ałčuʔ — Brush Spread on the Water — West Point
  10. səxʷt’ičib — Place Where One Wades — Lakeridge
  11. c’alq’ʷadiʔ — Blackcaps on the Sides — Magnuson Park
  12. sisałtəb — Calmed Down a Little — Haller Lake
  13. dxʷƛ’əš — translation unknown — Green Lake
  14. x̌áx̌əʔčuʔ — Small Lake — Lake Union
  15. x̌ačuʔ — Lake — Lake Washington
  16. liq’təd — Red Paint — Licton Springs, the other unchanged Native name within Seattle city limits
  17. ƛ’ax̌ʷadis — The Growing Place — Squawk (Squak) Slough, mouth of the Sammamish River at Kenmore
  18. siʔał — personal name — Chief Seattle (Sealth)
  19. dxʷləšúcid — Salt Water Language — Lushootseed
  20. kʷaatəb — Dropped Down — Piper’s Creek at Carkeek Park beach
  21. stəx̌ʷugʷił — Carry a Canoe — Montlake Cut 
  22. xʷiwálqʷ — Lots of Water — Commodore Park (Magnolia side of Ballard Locks)
  23. wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ — Intellectual House