Aaron Arrowsmith’s 1814 map of North America included the Coo-too-nay River. Kootenay Lake is labelled Flat Bow Lake and the Arrow Lakes appear as Chath-noo-nick or Ear Bobs Lake.

34 ways to spell Kootenay (or is it Kootenai?)

Place Names: No consensus existed in the 19th century on how to write the name of our region

Three hundred twentieth in a series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names

We’ve spent the last few weeks looking at how one Kootenay became two Kootenays, east and west, and the birth and rise of the tautological “West Kootenays.”

But we didn’t study the word Kootenay itself, which is a corruption of Ktunaxa (pronounced k-too-NAH-hah), one of the First Peoples of our region.

Kootenay (or ktonai or ktunai) was apparently the Blackfoot name for the Ktunaxa, but it’s not obvious why it became the preferred term for the region.

The first printed reference is on an 1801 map in Alexander Mackenzie’s Voyages from Montreal, which spelled it almost unrecognizably as Cattahowes.

Next earliest is from explorer David Thompson’s journal of Sept. 9, 1809, spelling it Kootenae — as in Kootenae House (also spelled Kootanae House), the fort and trading post he established in 1807 near present-day Invermere.

An 1814 map of North America by Aaron Arrowsmith included the Coo-too-nay River and suggested the region was home to the Cottonahowes people.

Kootanie was the form that appeared on a map accompanying Alex Ross’ 1849 book on the first settlers of the Columbia River as well as on 1850 and 1854 maps by John Arrowsmith, and an 1865 map of the Palliser expedition.

The earliest appearance of Kootenay yet discovered is in a letter by Father Pierre-Jean De Smet dated Sept. 3, 1845 and published in the St. Joseph (Missouri) Gazette of March 12, 1847. Kootonai appears in the Washington (DC) Evening Star of May 5, 1859 and Kootenai in the Portland Morning Oregonian of Sept. 17, 1862.

A century later, Alma Burton claimed in the Nelson Daily News centennial supplement of July 5, 1958 that 67 different spellings of Kootenay existed. In 1973, local publishing house Co Tinneh Press said there were 70 spellings and put out a series of poetry chapbooks, each with Kootenay spelled a different way, including Co Tinneh, Coutannie, and Cottonahou. Wikipedia says “around 40 variants of the name … have been attested since 1820; two others are also in current use.”

However, we’re only aware of 34 spellings: Kootenay, Kootenai, Kutenai, Kitunaha, Coutanie, Cootenay, Cootoonay, Kootoonaie, Cotinneh, Kootenie, Kootenaie, Kootanie, Kootany, Kootonay, Kutunas, Kootanas, Kutnehas, Kutonas, Cotonoi, Kootenuha, Coutannie, Cottonahou, Cottonahowe, Kutenae, Kutenay, Kootenae, Kootanie, Koetenay, Cootonais, Cootanies, Cotonne, Cotonoi, Koutaine, and Kuteneha.

To this list might be added a few modern-day misspellings: Kootney (first used in the Sandon Paystreak of May 15, 1897), Kooteney, Kootaney, Kooteny, Kootny, Kootnay, and Kootany; plus Ktunaxa itself and its variants Ktonaxa, Tunaxa, Kituna’qa, and Kútonâqa,

Supposedly Frederick Seymour, the first governor of BC, fixed the spelling as Kootenay in 1864 to differentiate it from Kootenai, the form used in the US, where it became the name of an Idaho county and city.

Still, the matter remained in flux.

The Spokane Chronicle of Aug. 29, 1895 asked: “Will the coming mining convention please decide whether it ought to be spelled Kootenay or Kootenai? There should be but one form of this name in use throughout the northwest. Which shall it be?”

The rival Spokane Outburst responded: “This is the first inkling we have had that the coming mining convention had the power to change the name of a country. No doubt it would be better if the British Kootenay and the American Kootenai were spelled alike. But we doubt very much if the Canadian government will consent to have its domain changed even by the convention and surely the people of Kootenai, in Idaho, will not consent to a change in the spelling of the name of their country.’”

In 1899, the Geographic Board of Canada ruled that henceforth, the river, lake, and district were all to be spelled “Kootenay (not Kootenai, nor Kootenie),” although the Dominion Geological Survey persisted in using Kootanie.

The American spelling remains Kootenai. Therefore the Kootenay River becomes the Kootenai River and vice versa when it crosses the border. (The same thing happens with the Okanagan/Okanogan and Pend d’Oreille/Pend Oreille rivers.)

Kutenai, a popular variant, was first used in 1901 and included in the 1976 supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary, which provided the etymology as Kútonâqa, “the name in a North American Indian language.”

The dictionary also gave “Kootenai” and the obscure “Kutenay” as two examples of the “many other variants” of Kutenai — but not “Kootenay.”

We’ll continue exploring this subject next week.

kootenayLocal History

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