DENVER — Unusual campus names are a venerable college tradition — think Harvard’s Wigglesworth Hall or Southern California’s Argue Plaza — but nothing quite compares to those under review at the University of Colorado Boulder.
The Boulder Campus Planning Commission has recommended renaming two renovated dormitories “Houusoo Hall” and “Nowoo3 Hall” after two Arapaho Indian chiefs better known in the history books as Chief Hosa and Chief Niwot.
The Nov. 14 decision came after faculty members argued that using the phonetic or literal translations would be culturally insensitive. The names “Houusoo” and “Nowoo3” are the spellings from the Arapaho/Hinono’ei language.
“While the orthographies might initially seem foreign or hard to understand to non-Arapahos and non-Natives, choosing to spell Nowoo3 as Niwot would be equivalent to spelling Charles de Gaulle’s name phonetically [Sharl duh Gahl], which is culturally chauvinist and clearly primitivizing in a Native American context,” says a Nov. 13 letter signed by 23 members of the CU Native Studies faculty.
Supporters hope to win final approval for the name change at the CU Board of Regents’ meeting in February. The buildings undergoing renovation, currently named Kittredge Central and Kittredge West, are scheduled to be rededicated in the spring.
Adopting a name that few can pronounce may seem like an example of political correctness run amok, but it’s starting to look like a campus trend. In their proposal, supporters note that several universities recently have opted to use the native spellings of Indian names.
The University of British Columbia Library now includes the Xwi7xwa (pronounced “whei-wha”) Library, a “center for academic and community Indigenous scholarship” at the university library that holds a collection of about 12,000 books, videos and other materials, according to its website.
There’s also Stanford University’s Muwekma-Tah-Ruk Residence Hall, an American Indian-themed dorm that houses 31 students, according to the website. The University of Massachusetts Amherst’s website describes Kanonhsesne as a “living-learning environment” that “develops social supports and a sense of community for Native American Students and their allies.”
All three are examples of relatively small projects aimed at American Indian students and scholars, which means the Boulder dormitories may be the first major U.S. campus buildings to adopt the Indian language spellings.
The Boulder Daily Camera reported that university officials plan to offer a guide to pronouncing the dormitories’ names.
“Though these names might trip up a few parents or prospective students on campus tours, the university plans to create plaques explaining the pronunciation and significance of the names for the buildings,” the Daily Camera reported in a Nov. 28 article. “Officials will also create educational programming around the names to explain their importance and pronunciation for those living in the residence halls.”
“Houusoo” is pronounced “Ho-sa” and means “Little Raven,” and “Nowoo3” is pronounced “Na-wath” and means “Left Hand,” according to a proposal by name-change supporters. Both chiefs led Southern Arapaho tribes in the Boulder area.
“Houusoo and Nowoo3 were the names these pivotally important and pacifist-oriented chiefs were known by, and we should honor them in their own languages in their own home,” the faculty letter says.