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What's in a name?

Posted by Rob Klavins at Dec 29, 2011 04:00 PM |
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The epic 750-mile journey of Oregon’s history-making wolf has sparked imaginations around the world.

What's in a name?

OR-7's historic journey across Oregon started as a member of the Imnaha Pack - shown here in Wallowa County an ODFW photo. Now near the California border, a naming contest has generated worldwide interest.

In 1947 Oregon’s last wolf bounty was collected for a wolf killed just outside of Crater Lake National Park.

It took 64 years until the next wolf would be confirmed West of the Cascades. It’s certainly possible other wolves have wandered the Cascades, but in the fall of 2011, a lone wolf brought with it a GPS tracking collar and an international spotlight to a quiet part of Oregon.

In a state that takes pride in its natural heritage, conservation ethic, and connection to the outdoors, the purposeful elimination of wolves in the last century stands as one of our greatest environmental tragedies. The still fragile recovery of wolves stands alongside that of bald eagles and gray whales as one of America’s greatest conservation success stories.

Though conflict and controversy drummed up by old-school wolf haters tends to grab headlines, the story of a lone wolf that traveled within miles of the very spot where Oregon’s last wolf was killed has allowed the conversation to refocus on the real story of wolves.


In 2009, OR-7 was born to the Imnaha pack and was amongst the first litters of pups born in the state since recovery began. In fact it’s possible that he’s in this video of 6 pups that excited wildlife enthusiasts in the fall of that year.

Imnaha Alpha 1As a reporter for the La Grande Observer recently wrote: “Love wolves or hate them, you’ve got to admit OR-7 isn’t much of a name. It’s cold and bureaucratic. It sounds like something you’d call an inmate in a penitentiary.” The same could be said of his parents known to government agents as OR-4 and B-300

OR-4 is the black-colored alpha male of the Imnaha Pack shown here. At 115 pounds he is Oregon’s biggest known wolf. For the same reason OR-7 got his name, OR-4 received his moniker after becoming the 4th wolf collared in Oregon.

Many feared for both he and his pack last year when his tracking collar failed. He’s since been recollared and his movements are carefully monitored. His partner, the alpha female of the Imnaha pack, was born in Idaho and given the name B-300 by federal wildlife agents.

However, for the last 3 years she’s been known to the Oregon Wild Wolf Pack as Sophie.

B-300 (aka Sophie)The idea of naming a wild animal has critics who make reasonable points. However, the greatest threat to wolves comes from a purposeful campaign of misinformation and fear.

By naming Sophie, we hoped we could make her safer from those who might otherwise be tempted to kill an unknown or anonymous wolf. That happened last fall to a nameless male of the Wenaha pack. Just days after he was fitted with a collar, he was killed by a cowardly poacher. The iconic photo below became a rallying point for those who appreciate and value wildlife. Sadly, his killer remains at large.

If it weren’t for the efforts of conservation groups like Oregon Wild, OR-7’s historic journey may never have been possible. Over the last two years, along with our reliable partners at Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Hells Canyon Preservation Council, and the Oregon public we stopped the needless killing of several members of the Imnaha pack.

Wenaha Male WolfIn a recent response to an Oregonian story Angela Nash wrote “He [OR-7] should never have left Wallowa County…Oregon has put themselves in danger…I think we should name him Guido and his pop [OR-4] Godfather. They are a bunch of thugs.” Nash's name may be familiar. Husband Todd is one of the state's most vocal anti-wolf activists. It was at his request that Governor Kitzhaber’s Department of Fish & Wildlife issued yet another kill order for half of the Imnaha Pack in September. That kill order has since been suspended by a state court as it likely violates state endangered species laws.

Though lots of folks have come to realize wolf recovery isn’t a serious threat to freedom, wildlife, human safety, or agricultural operations, it's sad that there are still some who would celebrate the death of a wolf like OR-7.

So, in hopes of drawing attention to the facts of wolf recovery and engaging the next generation in wildlife conservation, we unveiled a similar effort to the one we undertook with Sophie in 2008.

The Connect to the Wild campaign is still underway, but has already been a great success. Along with a kids art contest (there are no known photos of OR-7), we also centered the program on a naming contest.

Wolf Art 2We were overwhelmed with submissions. After news stories on the contest ran on every continent (except Antarctica) we received over 250 submissions from kids across Oregon and around the world. Last week we announced 5 finalists. Choosing 5 was an almost impossible task. Below are the stories of the finalists and some of the other notable suggestions.

You can vote on your favorite on the Oregon Wolves Facebook page (you’ll have to scroll down a few links for the poll question). And we’ll announce the winner in the new year (likely on January 2nd).

The Finalists (in alphabetical order)

(disclaimer: definitions, spellings, and stories were provided by the name submitters. Though we did our best to fact/spell check, please accept our apologies in advance if you find any inaccuracies)

Arthur – the name was actually suggested as Arttu, but we Americanized it with the help of the charming 13-year old girl who submitted it. In a demonstration of the wide reach of the contest, this submission came from Finland!

Journey – A number of folks thought it was important the we “Don’t Stop Believin’”. The suggestion for Journey came from an 11-year-old in Dickinson, North Dakota and a 7-year-old in Mountain Home, Idaho. The girl’s mother wrote:

“We are a military family stationed here in Idaho, but I’m a born and raised Oregonian, avid hunter, and firm believer of stewardship of the land and her resources. Many,  including several in this state, are still misinformed about wolves, in my honest opinion if God saw fit to place them here then we should see fit to honor his wisdom and grace."

Lupin – From near wolf country in Northeast Oregon, a 13-year old girl in La Grande, Oregon suggested the name Lupin. She was recently featured in the town newspaper. She reports that the recognition has sparked some lively family conversations and that the name was inspired by the closeness to the latin word for wolf “Lupus” and that lupine flowers live in the forests where wolves live.

Max – So far Max is at the back of the pack in voting, but it was suggested three times – one of which was an entire class of second graders in North Clackamas. Additionally, second graders from St. Paul Minnesota and Eugene suggested the short and simple name.

Takota – Takota was suggested by a 14-year old boy who lived in Oregon for several years before moving back to Oklahoma. Takota is proud of his Shoshone heritage and suggested his name for the wolf which means “wolf” in Shoshone.

First Submissions and Second Languages

Little Red Riding HoodThe very first name came from a 7-year old girl in Northeastern Oregon. Her name suggestion of Whoseafraida generated a lot of smiles.

We learned a lot of new words from other languages including the following words for wolf Faolan (Irish/Gaelic), Banjara (Hindi), Mingan (Hopi for gray wolf), Gunnolf (a Norse name), and Nashoba (Choctaw). Wa-Ya is Cherokee for wolf and was less of a mouthful than Ga-nv-hi-da  A-ne-do-li-do-hv  wa-ya which means “lone traveling wolf”.

Wanderer was suggested a couple of times in English as well as in Algonquin (Kickapoo) and Shawnee (Kiwigapawa). Along those same lines, Pemota was suggested as it means “one who walks” in Cree and Kimarimari which means “one who cannot stay in one place” in Kenyan. Rounding out the new words category, Bidzel was suggested as meaning “He is strong”. That's certainly true for a wolf that has traveled well over 700 miles on his own!

A few folks provided some great stories behind the names. Myeengan (or Ma’iingan) means wolf in Ojibwe. An 8-year old Oregon girl submitted that name with this fitting story:

“The creation story tells of a wolf who walked with first man to name all the creatures and they learned through their travels that they were brothers and so were all things. When they went their separate ways the creator told them they would always be connected and what happened to one would happen to the other. The people who would come later, they were told, would either fear them both, respect them both or misunderstand them both.”

Chief JosephNative American words provided the source for lots of great submissions including Winema, Chief Joseph (“both made famous and courageous trips across Oregon”), and Paulina. Another name submission – Komax – came through our facebook page and included a link to an interesting legend of a sea stack on the Oregon coast.

Kai means “willow tree” in Navajo and a 16-year old girl from Eugene wrote “the wolf reminds me of the willow. Calm, powerful, beautiful, how it's branches flow in the wind as well as the wolf's fur as it has traveled a long way. The willow is a fighter and so is the wolf”

Some folks suggested their dog’s name or the name of a parent or friend. However, Takota wasn’t the only touching submission that was also the name of the submitter. A young boy named Zev sent along his name as the suggestion. From California he wrote

“Zev means wolf in Hebrew…I hope OR-7 starts a family in Oregon and that someday his pups move to California. I want wolves in California”.

UPDATE: Just moments after posting this blog, we learned OR-7 has in fact crossed into California. Check Oregon Wild's wolf news archive for the latest

Recent reports have OR-7 within 10-miles of the California border. After a journey across mountain ranges, rivers, and deserts, it’s not a big stretch of the imagination that OR-7 could become the first confirmed wolf in California since 1924!

Journey wasn’t the only classic-rock inspired suggestion. More than one person suggested Desperado. Other great cultural icons include Rudy, Captain Kirk (“boldly going where no wolf has gone before"), Lone Wolf McQuade, and even Sarah Palin. Yup you read that right. Along with Smarter than a Rancher, Sarah Palin was suggested with this rationale

is there a hunter in the land that would shoot a wolf named Sarah Palin? Cruel as it would be…he, and we, would appreciate the irony if it meant his enduring freedom”.

Where's WaldoThough we had to eliminate Waldo from the finalists (it was suggested by adults), we loved it for its triple association with Waldo Lake, Judge Waldo, and of course – Where’s Waldo?.

Another suggestion that would have merited consideration had it not come from an adult. Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker concluded a recent article with "My pick for the long distance running Oregon wolf’s name is Pre for Oregon’s famous runner Steve Prefontaine."

Rounding out the submissions that deserve extra attention are Tolkien (Not all who wander are lost) and Orson. Orson, and versions of it were suggested first by adults (including a wildlife biologist in Northeastern Oregon) and then became official with this suggestion:

"My 5 year old granddaughter and I were checking out the Pictures of the wolves, and I told her about OR-7.  She replied “Why is his name Orson?”. 

Mollie Beattie once said "what a country chooses to save is what a country chooses to say about itself." The return of wolves to Oregon says a lot about how far we've come in the last century. The naming contest was a wonderful reaffirmation for us here at Oregon Wild that Oregonians value abundant wildlife and wild landscapes. It's a legacy worth leaving to future generations.

To the other 200 or so submitters as well as to those voting for the winner or simply following along - thank you for making this contest such a success.

Wolf recovery in Oregon has the potential to be a great success story. But it will only happen if the majority of folks who value native wildlife get informed, spread the word, and get involved.

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