Salem might have avoided being one of the many cities of
the same name in the United States by adopting one of many
other suggested names. When trustees of the Oregon Institute
laid out the town, in 1846, the name Chemeketa was suggested
by the Reverend Josiah Parrish. No one really knows what the
term truly meant to the Kalapuya Indians who inhabited the
area, but the white men interpreted this word to mean "resting
place or meeting place".
How would Valena sound? Or Thurston, or Corvallis - all names
suggested in the territorial legislature of 1853, along with
Chemawa, Chemeketa, Willametta, Durham, Multnomah, Corrona,
Bronson, Pike and Victoria. Thurston was an understandable
choice, Sam Thurston was a much revered personage in early
Oregon, the Territory's first representative to Congress who
had died just two years earlier on his way home to Oregon.
John D. Boone's suggestion was that "Algebra" be
the town's new name. A late entry in the name game was a petition
suggestion that Valleyopolis be selected.
Even after the town began to call itself Salem, not everyone
was happy about it. In late 1853, Asahel Bush, the influential
editor of the Oregon Statesman newspaper, launched a serious
campaign to rename Salem. In a lengthy editorial December
13, he urged the adoption of Chemeketa rather than Salem since
there were at that time 31 other Salems in the states and
territories, one of which was in Marion County, Illinois!
Bush wanted to rename Salem to Chemeketa to recognize its
original unique name. Bush stated this Indian name meant "Old
home" or the "Old camping ground". (It isn't
known what this term meant to the local Native Americans.)
Bush argued there wasn't another Chemeketa on the planet.
The territorial legislature favored naming its capital city
Chemawa until Rev. John Stipp presented a petition signed
by a number of citizens urging the legislature not to choose
an Indian name. When the final vote came in the legislature
in January, 1854, Salem was retained.
Who named Salem and what does it mean?
W. H. Willson suggested Salem, the Anglicized version of the
biblical name for peace, Shalom.
Or was the name Salem chosen by Reverend David Leslie, president
of the trustees? Leslie had suggested a Biblical name by using
the last part of the word Jerusalem.
Historians differ on the credit, but it was to somebody's
credit that a certain suggestion wasn't adopted. - That was
the name "Woronoco"!
In an action establishing Salem as the seat of government
in the Oregon Territory, on December 1855, all attempts and
"odd" name suggestions ceased and so, the capital
city of Oregon has remained Salem ever since.
Complied by Monica Mersinger.
Statesman-Journal newspaper, November 13, 1971
Lewis H. Judson, "Who Gave Salem Its Name?", Marion
County History Vol. IX, p. 49
Oregon Statesman, issues Nov 15, 1853; Dec 13, 1853; Jan 3,
1854; Jan. 10, 1854; Jan 24, 1854; Jan 23, 1855; Dec 25, 1855.
Illustrated Historical Atlas Map of Marion and Linn Counties
Oregon, S.F. " Edgar Williamsn and Co, 1878, p. 24