“One of the expeditions from Europe was looking for a Northwest Passage. They came across the bay and they couldn’t get through, so they named it Repulse Bay because they were repulsed,” says Solomon Malliki. This elicits a chuckle from the mayor of the Kivalliq community that, until 2014, was still named Repulse Bay. But that year, residents voted in a plebiscite (82 to 73) to change it to Naujaat—Inuktitut for ‘a nesting place for seagulls.’
Residents in more than a dozen Northern communities have renamed their hometowns to represent the people who live there—not visitors or merchants from centuries ago. Eskimo Point, a moniker given by traders, became Arviat (‘place of the bowhead whale’) in 1989. Fort Franklin, so named because John Franklin wintered there in the 1820s, became Délįne (‘where the waters flow’) in 1993. Frobisher Bay, named after ignominious 16th Century privateer Martin Frobisher, was changed to Iqaluit (‘place of many fish’) in 1987.
But to make it official, there’s a whole bureaucratic process to follow. Malliki formally requested the government change the name. It was put to a vote by cabinet and passed in Nunavut’s legislative assembly. Then the hamlet updated its stationery and seals. New signs went up around town, created by the hamlet’s handy building maintainer.
All the efforts to gain official recognition of the Inuktitut name were worth it though, according to Malliki. “It’s more connected to our culture, that’s what I can say.”