The Historian Behind Many of Oregon's Place Names

Point to anything on our state's map. There’s a good chance Chet Orloff helped name it.

By Caleb Diehl January 5, 2015 Published in the January 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Amy Martin

"If I were to create an emblem for myself,” says Chet Orloff—and yes, this is how the veteran Oregon historian thinks—“it would be an eagle’s nest.” (Chet stems from castra, Latin for camp. Orloff means eagle.) Names are Orloff’s thing, and he takes them seriously. As director emeritus of the Oregon Historical Society and permanent secretary of the Oregon Geographic Names Board, over the past decade he has been involved in naming or renaming some 300 Oregon buttes, hills, valleys, bridges, even two fireboats. 

“The process is amateurish,” Orloff says. “But I use amateur in its true sense, meaning people who love what they’re doing.”

Orloff’s Greatest Hits

  • Owl Creek: Named after the large number of owls in the area.
  • Platinum Falls: Named for consistency with nearby Golden and Silver Falls.
  • High Lakes Pass: Refers to the proximity and elevation of Lake of the Woods and Fish Lake.
  • Ghost Creek: Adopted for consistency with other Halloween-themed areas in the vicinity, like Pumpkin Ridge.
  • Tuu-Tiipi Flat: The Burns-Paiute word for “flat.” (Flat flat!)
  • Paa-ne-na Reservoir: The Burns-Paiute name for this Malheur County water body.
  • Little Táwn Spring: Based on the Umatilla phrase for “to make stone tools out of hard rock.”
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