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New contest tries to lure youngsters to ask questions about Washington history

What's in a Place Name? logo
Courtesy Washington Secretary of State's office
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"What's in a Place Name?" encourages people to investigate something in their neighborhoods

The Washington Secretary of State’s office is trying to get students excited about local and state history. It’s offering money to stoke those passions.

The office has announced a “What’s in a Place Name?” contest. It is encouraging young people who are curious about the name of a bridge or a street or something in their neighborhood or business.

“I was especially inspired by the name change of my former high school in Tacoma. Woodrow Wilson was changed to Dolores Silas High School," said Aaron Peplowski, a senior researcher at Legacy Washington in the Secretary of State’s office. He developed the idea.

“We’re in a time where people are asking questions about what names are given on buildings, what monuments there are and revisiting if that fits with community values," he said.

If a student is curious about why, say, one of Spokane’s new middle schools will be named after Pauline Flett or Carla Peperzak, they can do some research and write a paper or create some art and explain why.

“We wanted to open it up to plays and poetry and photo essays and documentaries," he said.

Individuals and student teams have until mid-May to submit their entries to Legacy Washington in the Secretary of State’s office. The contest judges will pick five winners who will receive $100 grants for their school classrooms.

“The two main things we’re trying to accomplish by them taking the contest is to really hone those research skills and we want to be a resource for that and critical thinking. Is that name appropriate? Who is this person? And how does that fit with the community?” he said.

The winning entrants will also be displayed virtually on the secretary of state’s Primarily Washington website. You can find more information, including a contest entry form, here.