What’s in a Name?

SCA Member Marinell Chandler Reveals the Wilderness Act-Related Name of Denali's Latest Puppy

As of today, our new puppy is over two weeks old. His eyes have opened, and he is growing very quickly from the little pup that could fit in my one hand to one that is starting to toddle around the floor of his pen. From day one after this pup’s birth we’ve been asked what his name is, and we finally an answer.

Each year, our puppies are named based off of a theme that is somehow related to Alaska, or even more specifically, Denali. The theme for last year’s litter was “Climbing Knots” to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the first ascent of Mount McKinley. Our dogs Clove, Prusik, and Munter are all named after climbing knots and hitches. Other themes have been climbing routes, Inupiaq names, volcanoes, mining claims, and things you’ll find at Wonder Lake (Loon, Skeeter, Timber, and Trout).

This year is the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Wilderness Act. To celebrate, our squirming, growing, adorable little pup is going to be named after this piece of legislation that was unprecedented for the preservation and protection of our nation’s wild places.

The Post-WWII era of the United States brought an incredible amount of development to the country, particularly in the areas of housing, road systems, and modern technologies. As Americans became more mobile, the desire to travel increased. Simultaneously, the massive amount of rapid development of the country posed sudden increased threats to the existence of America’s wilderness, prompting the Wilderness Society and other supporters of preservation to lobby for the bill.

Drafted by the former Executive Director of the Wilderness Society Howard Zahniser, the bill was meant to protect some of the nation’s remaining wilderness from development. He wrote, “I believe we have a profound fundamental need for areas of the earth where we stand without our mechanisms that make us immediate masters over our environment.” Eight years and 66 revisions later, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it into law in 1964. As a result, the United States Congress not only created the National Wilderness Preservation System and declared a standard of classification for the designation of wilderness, they also defined wilderness and declared it a national responsibility to protect it, an extremely significant moment for our nations environmental history.

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

A week ago, we put our theme idea to Facebook – explaining the theme of Wilderness and what we were looking for in name suggestions. Hundreds of people submitted ideas, ranging from influential figures in wilderness preservation to names of Wilderness areas all across the United States. With the incredible job that our sled dogs devote their lives doing – protecting Denali’s wilderness as well as the wildlife that depend on it for us and future generations to experience – kennels staff were very excited to name this puppy to reflect the wilderness character of this park.

So what is his name, you ask?

We chose to name him Zahnie, after Howard Zahniser. Similar to the number of years Zahniser spent writing and rewriting the act, Zahnie will spend about eight years as a canine ranger, patrolling this vast wilderness of the park and all that lie therein. Reflecting on his namesake, the phrase “what’s in a name?” comes to mind. For Zahnie, the lasting legacy of Howard Zahniser’s legislation and what it means for Denali’s wilderness character lives on in his name as well as the calling that this new puppy has been born into.