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July 4th, 2012 MARTY SMITH | Dr. Know
 

Dr. Know: Keep Obregón Extraño!

It true that the name Oregon comes from the Spanish surname Obregón?

drknowILLUSTRATION: Hawk Krall

We all know that the Spaniards were in Oregon before the British. Is it true that the name Oregon comes from the Spanish surname Obregón? Like Álvaro Obregón? —Puscifer

If you wanna believe that, shortly after acceding to the presidency of Mexico in 1920, Álvaro Obregón time-traveled to the 18th century and named Oregon after himself, go for it. Frankly, it’s no dumber than most of the existing theories.

Here’s what we do know: In the 18th century, the Columbia was called, at least sometimes, the Ouragon River. And we’re named after the river. Where did the river’s name come from? Well, this is where the theories start to sound increasingly idiotic.

Try this on for size: The river was named “Ouragon” after ouragan, the French word for hurricane! See, sometimes on the Ouragon River the wind blew, because it was, like, outside and stuff. And, um, a hurricane is a kind of wind, so...there ya go?

No, wait! Oregon comes from ooligan, the Chinook word for a kind of fatty smelt that some indigenous people liked to eat! You know, through the same linguistic process by which the state of California came to be called “french fries.”

It gets worse: “Oregon” is a corruption of aure il agua! It’s Portuguese for “Hear the waters!” This would make a lot more sense if the Columbia were a beach, or a waterfall, or something that made fucking sounds.

The leading theory, I shit you not, is that some mapmaker thought the Columbia was the other end of the Wisconsin River (then spelled “Ouisiconsink”). A typo mislabeled this basically nonexistent river the “Ouariconsint.” That was hyphenated as “Ouaricon-sint,” and the “Ouaricon” part morphed into our modern “Oregon.”

So count your blessings—we were one mapmaker’s coffee stain away from being forever known as “Orphlmrph.”

 
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