Naming something gives it an identity.
Also, like Walter and Sara Johnson know, giving something like a creek a name creates a personal connection between humans and nature.
The Johnsons applied with the Washington state Department of Natural Resources to give a waterway that runs through their property an official name – Owl Creek.
"Since we moved here we’ve always called it Owl Creek because of how impressive all the owls were that lived in the barn," Walter Johnson said, standing on a small bridge that spans the water, which runs parallel to Spath Road in Carlsborg.
"But there were conflicting stories about what the creek’s name actually was, so I looked into registered geographic names and there wasn’t one for this creek."
He said he’d heard it called Bear Creek, a fork of Matriotti Creek and others. When he contacted the state department, representatives said three creeks in Clallam County already were named Bear Creek, which made it easier for Johnson to go with his first choice.
"We’ve really named the whole property Owl Creek," he said. "The barn and subsequently its owls were a huge part of our purchase of the property and why we moved here back in 2001."
The Johnsons have about 15 acres of pasture and open field land. Much of the area, such as next to the creek, is natural, while areas close to the barn and home are landscaped with flowers, rock gardens and other trees and plants.
"I really like to take care of my landscaping and where I live and those things that have to do with where home is, which is why I had such an interest in giving this creek a name," Johnson said.
The creek was natural at one point in history. Now it is a combined irrigation outlet and creek from the Dungeness River. It helps feed Matriotti Creek.
"It is considered a fish-bearing stream so it will not be piped like the other dug out irrigation ditches," he said. "Also there are very natural areas that were not channeled for farms, which leaves much of it looking quite natural."
The Department of Natural Resources has a Washington State Board on Geographic Names, which dictates guidelines for landscape naming and has the final decision of whether or not a name will be put onto the official map.
The board’s minimum guidelines state the name must serve the public interest, be done for features without generally accepted names and that the name retain the significance, spelling and flavor of names associated with the early history of Washington state.
"It wasn’t hard to meet the criteria with a name like Owl Creek," Johnson said.
The board has given the name initial approval for now, which means it meets the guidelines and that Johnson filled out his application correctly.
Now there is a public comment period open for those who want to speak up regarding the proposed name.
"Most of the neighbors I’ve spoken with liked the idea," Johnson said. "I hope it goes through, but there isn’t a lot riding on it other than it would be nice to have our name for it become official."