Corvallis By Any Other Name

Corvallis is known or has been known by various other names. Some of these names predate “Corvallis” while other nicknames and monikers developed after the official beginning of “Corvallis.” Corvallis is a fine name, if a name it must have, but for the sake of historical flavor, here are some of the other names that have been called our fair little borough. 

The area where Mary’s River flows into the Willamette has been inhabited by humans for thousands of years.  When English-speaking people first came into the Valley, the place was owned by the Calapooia, who called it Tcha Teemanwee (which has also been transliterated as Chepenafa), which means “Elderberry Grove”, because that’s the main business they pursued while they camped here.

The first U.S. citizen to stake a land claim in the Oregon Country was J.C. Avery, whose claim was filed a year before W.F. Dixon made his own.  The first recorded name for the settlement which became Corvallis was Averys.  Not Avery and not Avery’s, but Averys.  Whatever.  The name didn’t last long.  Even Avery didn’t want to call the town Averys.

In 1849, Avery laid out property lines in what he hoped would become a town called “Marysville.”  Settler Mary Lloyd claimed it had been named after her, but it’s more likely that Avery was thinking of Mary’s River and Mary’s Peak, both of which had much earlier been named by a French trapper after the Virgin Mary.

In 1853, the Oregon Territorial Legislature met in Salem to discuss the problem raised by the fact that there was a town in California called Marysville. They heard petitions urging that the town be renamed Thurston and Valena.  They also discussed renaming Salem “Corvallis”, and this appears to be the first time that name was mentioned in Oregon.  In the end, Marysville was renamed Corvallis, and continues to be called Corvallis.  Not even the occasional confusion with Corvallis, Montana, has tempted us to try a different official name.

From time to time, though, Corvallis has been called by an assortment of nicknames with which to eke out our name (a nickname is, after all, an “eke name”):

Local boosters often refer to it as “The Heart of the Valley”, which is simply “Corvallis” translated into English.  And as long as we’re talking about that name, we might give a thought to the fact that in our sister city of Uzhgorod, Ukraine, that would be “Sertse Dolyny”, and in our other sister city of Gondar, Ethiopia, it’s “Yeshelek’owi Lisanati”.  I think those are both very pretty.

Corvallis has appeared in works of fiction under alternative names assigned by authors. Bernard Malamud, who taught at Oregon State, called it Cascadia, home of Cascadia College, in his novel A New Life.  In a series of mystery novels by Ashna Graves, newspaper reporter Jeneva Leopold solves crimes in a town called Willamette. (Note: Ashna Graves is the pen name of a Corvallis newspaper reporter). Keith Scribners’ The Oregon Experiment (2011) is set in Douglas (which he says is a mixture of Corvallis and Eugene).  The television series Eureka is set in the Oregon college town of Eureka which, if it isn’t Corvallis, must be Eugene.

Corvallis is also given alternate names by some organizations for their own purposes.  It’s known to the U.S. Postal Service as 97330, 97331, 97333 and 97339. According to the Federal Information Processing Standards, we’re FPIS 41-15800. The U.S. Geological Survey’s Geographic Names Information System calls us GNIS 1140162.  To the Federal Aviation Administration, we’re CVO.  To the Medieval re-enactment group the Society for Creative Anachronism, Corvallis is the Shire of Coeur du Val, which is Medieval French for (once again) “Heart of the Valley”.

By John M Burt