Should streets be named after human beings?


I have been following through the newspapers the hubbub created by the Town of Iqaluit’s proposal to introduce names to its streets.

Peter Irniq, the newly appointed commissioner of Nunavut, once wrote an editorial in News/North about Inuit customary naming. He wrote that, customarily, Inuit name newborns after deceased persons, but that it was not customary to name buildings in the same manner.

The qallunaat, althought trying to be noble, failed to ask questions of the Inuit about this practice of naming buildings, which they are accustomed to.

I have been consulting with people in communities about Nunavut laws in the North Baffin region (the area I’m covering) and one of the recommendations I took from an elder was to end the practice of naming buildings after deceased persons. It was the same message that Mr. Irniq once wroten — it’s a foreign practice — and to this elder, it was quite painful to realize that a building was named after a deceased loved one without family consultation. The name becomes meaningless once people start referring to the building name.

Buildings and streets may be different, but the naming concepts are pretty much the same. I saw that some proposed street names referred to its environment (Siuraq Street, or Sandy Street) and that is more likely akin to the way Inuit name places (camps and landmarks.)

Our commission is only going to give our consultation recommendations to the Government of Nunavut once we compile them and I am not trying to interfere with the Town of Iqaluit’s affairs. I just thought you should become aware of the atmosphere surrounding the issue of naming.

You may want to do your own mini-consultations with Iqalungmiut before any concrete decisions are made about street naming after deceased persons (their views may be entirely different and it could just be that they would be honoured to have a street named after a deceased family member.)

Sandra Omik
Chief Commissioner
Maligarnit Qimirrujiit
Nunavut Law Review Commission

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