McKinley vs. Denali: What’s in a Name?


This week, the name of the 6,194-meter (20,320-foot) peak in Alaska changed from Mount McKinley to Denali. Nat Geo explains why the peak has so many names, whether its new one is really permanent, and how mapmakers will handle the change. (Nat Geo News)

Use today’s simple MapMaker Interactive map or our 1-page map of Alaska to put “the great one” in perspective.

Denali looms over the landscape—and a healthy bull moose—in this 1966 image. Photograph by Melville B. Grosvenor, National Geographic
Denali looms over the landscape—and a healthy bull moose—in this 1966 image.
Photograph by Melville B. Grosvenor, National Geographic

Discussion Ideas

  • The Nat Geo News article asks “Who Decides the Names on a Map”? What is the answer in this case—who decided to officially change the name of Mount McKinley to Denali?
    • Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell made it official on August 28, 2015. Here’s the one-page document. Juan José Valdés, National Geographic’s geographer, explains that “[u]nder a 1947 law the Secretary of the Interior has the authority to make name changes happen.”





  • Valdés says that “[n]ormally there are anywhere from two to ten variant names for a place.” Can you think of any other mountains in the world that have variant or alternate names?
    • Lots! Take a look at the “Seven Summits” (the tallest peaks on every continent) for a start.
      • Mount Everest is also known as Chomolungma in China (Tibet) and Sagarmāthā in Nepal.
      • Mount Kosciuszko, Australia, is also known as Jagungal in the Ngarigo (Aboriginal Australian) language.
      • Puncak Jaya, Indonesia, is also known as Carstensz Pyramid, after the Carstensz Expedition of 1936.
      • Mount Elbrus, Russia, is also known as Mingi Taw in the local Turkic language.
    • Valdés mentions Aoraki, a volcanic mountain in New Zealand, that changed its name from Mount Cook in 1998.
    • K2, the second-tallest peak in the world, is also known as Qogir in China (Tibet).
    • Pico de Orizaba, the tallest peak in Mexico, is also known as Citlaltepetl in the indigenous Nahuatl language.
    • Fitz Roy, a mountaineering monster in Patagonia, is also known as Cerro Chalten.
    • The Cumberland mountain range, part of the Appalachians in the southeastern United States, is also known as the Ouasiota Mountains.



Nat Geo: McKinley vs. Denali: Who Decides Names on a Map?

Nat Geo: Where is Denali? map

Nat Geo: Alaska 1-Page Map

Department of the Interior: Change of the Name of Mount McKinley to Denali

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