The Mount McKinley-Denali Controversy and the US Board on Geographic Names

Reference work entry


For thousands of years, the highest point in North America has been known by the Native Athabascans of Alaska as Denali. In 1896, a gold prospector from Ohio decided that the mountain should be named after former Ohio Governor William McKinley, who was running for President that year. The name Mount McKinley was applied to the mountain on Federal Government maps of Alaska beginning in 1898. In 1975, Governor Jay Hammond of Alaska requested that the Secretary of the Department of the Interior officially change the name of the mountain to Denali. However, the US Board on Geographic Names (BGN) did not process the proposal due to the actions of congressmen from Ohio who wanted the mountain to be forever named McKinley. The BGN has a policy of not acting on name issues that are the subject of pending congressional legislation. The consequence of this well-intentioned policy resulted in the repeated introduction of legislation by the Ohio congressional delegation (1977–2015) which had the effect of indefinitely deferring any resolution of the McKinley-Denali controversy by the BGN. In July 2015, an upcoming visit to Alaska by President Barack Obama and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell presented an opportunity for the BGN to finally help resolve the issue. The author was the Chairman of the Domestic Names Committee of the BGN at the time and was involved in preparing briefing materials for Secretary Jewell.


Mount McKinley Denali US Board on Geographic Names Domestic Names Committee 

Further Reading

  1. Carter, J. (1978). Presidential Proclamation 4616 – Denali National Monument. Retrieved May 5, 2017, from
  2. Comedy Central: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart “Living in Denali.” Video clip aired July 2, 2015. Retrieved May 5, 2017 from
  3. Council of Geographic Names Authorities in the United States. Retrieved May 5, 2017 from
  4. Geographic Names Information System (GNIS): Denali webpage. Retrieved May 5, 2017 from,P3_TITLE:1414314,Denali
  5. Jewell, S. (2015). Secretarial Order No. 3337: Change of the name of Mount McKinley to Denali. Retrieved May 5, 2017 from
  6. Korte, G. (2015). Ohio delegation blasts Mount McKinley name change. Retrieved May 5, 2017 from
  7. LoBianco, T. (2015). Trump vows to reverse Obama’s Mt. McKinley name change. Retrieved May 5, 2017 from
  8. Newell, B., & Horner, B. (2015). New elevation for Nation’s Highest Peak. Retrieved March 24, 2017 from
  9. Norris, F. (2006). Crown jewel of the north: An administrative history of Denali National Park and preserve. Chapters 1, 2, 3, 5, 8. Retrieved May 5, 2017 from
  10. Orth, D. J. (1990). United States Board on Geographic Names – Diary of actions, policies and events: 1890–1990. Retrieved March 24, 2017 from
  11. Public Law 80-242. (1947). To provide a central authority for standardizing geographic names. Retrieved May 5, 2017 from
  12. Public Law 96-487. (1980). Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. Retrieved May 5, 2017 from
  13. Records of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, Domestic Names Committee. Files on the Mt. McKinley-Denali name change proposal. Reston: U.S. Geological Survey.Google Scholar
  14. Steinhauer, J. (2015). 3,000 miles from Denali, Ohio Fumes over renaming of Mount McKinley. Retrieved May 5, 2017 from
  15. Stuck, H. D. D. (1914). The ascent of Denali (Mt. McKinley). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.Google Scholar
  16. U.S. Board on Geographic Names: Principles, Policies, and Procedures: Domestic Geographic Names. Retrieved May 5, 2017 from
  17. Washburn, B. (1980). A tourist guide to Mount McKinley. Anchorage: Alaska Northwest.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.US Board on Geographic Names, Bureau of Ocean Energy ManagementSterlingUSA

Personalised recommendations