As voyagers and visitors began to explore Alaska, they gave new names to places that were already known and named by the people who lived there. As cartographers documented these explorations, the new names became the rule, not the exception.
In Unalaska, many of the Unangan/Aleut names – or versions of them – live on in tandem with new nomenclature. You’ll hear English place names like Dutch Harbor, Pyramid Peak and Humpy Cove along with native places names like Iliuliuk Harbor, Ugadaga Bay and Makushin volcano.
This reflects the rich history of Unalaska, where Unangan people, Russians, and Americans had influence, and whose naming conventions have lasting impact.
Quick guide to the names on Unalaska
· The town: Unalaska
· The two main islands: Unalaska and Amaknak
· The port: Dutch Harbor
Unalaska (used synonymously for the city of Unalaska and Unalaska Island)
The original Unangan/Aleut word “Agunalaksh” was spelled several ways by Russian fur traders, including “Ounalashka.” In the 1890s, the United States Board on Geographic Names standardized the spelling to Unalaska. The native Ounalashka Corporation reflects the previous spelling, which is closer to the Unangan original.
Within the protected Unalaska Bay is a small harbor, called Dutch Harbor by the Russians because a Dutch vessel was reportedly the first to anchor there. Over the years, when people sailed or flew here, they would book passage to the port of Dutch Harbor.
While visitors, fans of the area, and WWII vets often refer to the area as Dutch Harbor, you will hear long-time residents using the official name, Unalaska, or even the older version, Ounalashka.