They’re having a hard time doing it.
The state issued a plea this month for public assistance in renaming five geographic features. The five are part of a total of 18 sites that include the word “squaw” or “Negro” in their names and have been designated by the legislature as needing renaming.
But some of the replacement names suggested by the South Dakota Board of Geographic Names board have been rejected by an obscure federal body called the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.
“It is hard for us to come up with a good name,” said June Hansen, a member of the South Dakota Board of Geographic Names. Tops on the list for renaming are places known for decades as “Negro Wool Ridge” and “Negro Gulch,” landmarks that in their early history were known by a different “n” word, said Hansen.
An effort to rename Negro Creek to Medicine Mountain Creek failed to garner approval of the federal body, for instance.
“There is some pretty strict criteria for what the name has to be,” said Hansen.
The federal board says that names should center on local history, folklore, events or natural aspects of the area, and says names cannot duplicate others attached to geographic features in South Dakota or nearby states.
The federal body does not consider the word “Negro” to be offensive, said Lou Yost, its executive secretary. Similarly squaw is not a problem for the federal board, though the three-letter shortened version of Japanese is, Yost said.