A tale of two Vancouvers

By 100m
April 1, 2010
Reading Time: 2 minutes
Filed under Branding, Naming, Positioning, Renaming
Vancouver BC & US Naming
Where to?

by Jeffery Racheff

As far as most of the world is concerned, there is only one Vancouver. It’s in British Columbia, it hosted this year’s Winter Olympics, and it’s Canada’s third largest city.

But hold on to your maps — another Vancouver exists. Just 300 miles to the south, making up the second half of a metropolitan area with Portland, Oregon, is the oft-overlooked city of Vancouver, Washington. With a population of around 175,000, it is by no means a small city. Yet for over a century now it has been almost entirely overshadowed by it’s brother to the north.

Well that’s all about to change, say American Vancouverites. The USA city has officially launched a re-branding campaign in which it will refer to itself as the “original Vancouver” (referencing the fact that it is historically older). The local tourism bureau hopes this move will differentiate it from its Canuck cousin and stop people from showing up and making jokes about hockey and Celine Dion.

Of course, that’s a task that may be easier said than done. Both cities are named after the British sea captain George Vancouver, who explored much of the Northwest territory at the end of the 18th century, and who apparently discovered enough to have two major cities fight over who could honor him best. And despite the fact that Vancouver, Washington, was founded more than 60 years before Vancouver, British Columbia, this is one popularity contest where Canada is dominating.

Look no further than the Olympics for proof. The honor of hosting the games is not given to just any rinky-dink village with some snowy hills and a frozen pond surrounded by bleachers. No, you have to be a world-class city. And since Vancouver, B.C., was chosen as such, that pretty much buried Little V’s chances of competing.

There’s also something disheartening, even belittling, for a town with big-time aspirations having to include its surname in order for people to know where it is. Any competitor with a shred of respect will at least get a disambiguation page on Wikipedia. But not “Vancouver.” That query takes you directly to the Canadian city.

So obviously Little V has a lot of work to do. Recently there have been talks of renaming the city, like “Fort Vancouver.” This would allow it to keep its homage to George while expanding on the suggestions of history and ruggedness, which would be in contrast to Big V’s urban, modern, cosmopolitan feel.

But for now Vancouver, Washington, will stick to its new slogan: “Visit Vancouver USA. Discover the Original.” Because anything would beat the old one: “We’re not the Vancouver you’re thinking of, but there’s still fun stuff to do here.”