Butterfly Bay

Taissumani: 2008-07-04

By Kenn Harper

One of the names that Charles Francis Hall placed on the map of Baffin Island was Tukeliketa Bay. Of course Hall, with his penchant for writing long Inuktitut words in syllables separated by hyphens, wrote it as Tuk-e-lik-e-ta.

This bay, north of Cyrus Field Bay, was named for Hannah and Joe’s son, born in 1861 before the couple left for the United States with Hall. In Inuktitut, the name should properly be spelled Tarralikitaq. It means butterfly.

Hall wrote of the boy for whom he named the bay, “I never saw a more animated, sweet-tempered, bright-looking child. Its imitativeness was largely developed, and was most engaging. Tuk-e-lik-e-ta was a child to be remembered by all who ever saw him.”

Unfortunately, neither the child nor his name on the map survived. The little boy died in New York in February of 1863, only 18 months old.

The name on the map survived longer. But in 1944, the United States Hydrographic Service asked the Canadian Department of Mines and Resources, Surveys and Engineering Branch, to confirm as official a list of 247 names in Frobisher Bay and vicinity for a marine map the U.S. government was making. One of the names on the list was Tukelik Bay. Somehow, over the years, Hall’s Tukeliketa had been abbreviated to Tukelik.

K. G. Chipman, a member of the executive committee of the Geographic Board of Canada, was not satisfied with the spelling of five of the Inuktitut place names listed, and wanted the “form and spelling” referred to the anthropologist, Diamond Jenness, then an advisor to the board.

Jenness studied the list and commented that Tukelik was probably intended to be “Tarkalikitark, meaning butterfly or moth,” noting that “the word cannot be shortened and still retain any meaning.”

Jenness was correct in that “Tarkalikitark” cannot be abbreviated. But ironically, he seemed unaware that “tukilik” (pronounced the same as the offending “tukelik”) means, among other possibilities, “that which has meaning”! Jenness misunderstood or simply didn’t know the meanings of some of the other Inuktitut words on Chipman’s list and recommended that some be replaced with English names.

When Chipman saw Jenness’s reply, he wrote back to J. H. Corry, the board’s secretary, with his opinion, “I think it would simply make the Board appear ridiculous if we were to approve Eskimo names which are meaningless and unintelligible or inexplicable. I recommend that the advice of Dr. Jenness be followed.”

Inexplicably, F. H. Peters, the Surveyor-General and Chief of the Hydrographic Service, instead of using Jenness’s spelling of Tarkalikitark or restoring the original Tukelikita to the map in place of the discredited Tukelik, recommended it be discarded completely and replaced with the English translation Butterfly Bay. None of the other four Inuktitut names that Chipman had questioned survived Jenness’s and Peters’s scrutiny either. One was replaced with an English mistranslation. The others were replaced with English names that had nothing to do with the original Inuktitut ones.

And so, through a series of errors and misunderstandings, the name of Tarralikitaq, son of Joe and Hannah, survives on the map of Baffin Island only in translated form as Butterfly Bay.

Taissumani recounts a specific event of historic interest. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to


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