M.V. KLICKITAT approaching port of Friday Harbor, San Juan Islands archipelago, WA. February 4, 1962. Original photo by Fred Milkie, from the archives of the Saltwater People Log©
What’s the best name for a new ferry?
The Vacation State, or the Klahowya!
The Washington State, or the Tillikum!
How about the Sales-Tax State, or the Duckabush?

If it weren’t for William O. Thorniley and a determined band of citizens who followed his lead, our Washington State ferries wouldn’t bear the Native American names that puzzle tourists (and a few natives as well).

It was early 1958 when the furor arose. Lloyd Nelson, a member of the State Toll Bridge Authority, had been given the innocent-sounding task of naming two new ferries in the state’s seven-year-old expanded system. After reviewing the names of the most recent acquisitions––the Rhododendron and the Olympic, launched in 1953; the Evergreen State, christened in 1954––Nelson set sail with his imagination and came up with two sure winners; the Vacation State and theWashington State. A small item announcing the names appeared on a back page of the January 14 1958, Seattle Times. With the pleasing sensation of a job well done, Nelson went on to his next task.

He hadn’t reckoned with William O. Thorniley. An employee of the Black Ball Ferry Line before the state acquired that private service in 1951, Thorniley had long advocated using Native American names for the ferries. In fact, he had collected Chinook names for years and had personally named many of the ferries on the Black Ball Line. Now, when he heard the proposed names, Thorniley launched a campaign through the Seattle Chamber of Commerce to return to the tradition of Native American ferry names. The result was a month-long controversy, with hundreds of citizens joining the fray.