Politics Blog

Return of the Bellinghamsters: Readers weigh in

Turns out, folks who live in Bellingham have a lot of strong ideas about what they should be called.

Plenty of people responded to this blog post from Monday, after I asked whether it was right to call Bellingham residents Bellinghamsters, Bellinghamites, or something else.

The post was sparked by an email from born-and-raised Bellingham 60-something Dan Stenvers, who didn’t want to be called a hamster, and said he’d always thought himself a Bellinghamite.

Before I share some of the other feedback I got, I’ll share my theory: It seems to me there might, maybe, just have been a shift from Bellinghamite to Bellinghamster somewhere around the middle of the 20th century.

Turns out we do have a digitized archive of our papers from 1903 to 1952. A search for Bellinghamsters came up blank, the system found one use of “Bellinghamer” in 1912, and about a dozen uses of “Bellinghamite“ between 1910 and 1950.

At least a handful of people said they started hearing the term Bellinghamster in the ‘60s or ‘70s.

John Doerper, who used to write restaurant reviews for the Herald in the 1980s, said he used Bellinghamster at the time, and had heard at least one urban legend about its origins.

“I was told back then, by someone born and raised in Bellingham, that a local girl coined the term. When her parents gave her a pet hamster, she supposedly named it ‘Bellinghamster.’”

Now for your feedback:

A 57-year-old who has lived in the county since he was 2 said they called themselves Bellinghamites growing up.

Squalicum High School senior Jason Wells sent this email, subject line: Bellinghamsters!:

“Good morning! I am a high school student attending Squalicum. As a senior, I have to think of all the possibilities after this year. I have already decided that I will stay local and attend Whatcom Community College, because why leave a place as beautiful as Bellingham? Reading your last two articles, I thought I would give not just my input, but several of my friends. After asking seven of them, they all agreed; the name is awesome. It is unique and gives us an identity. So thanks for your articles, and for your time. This is just seven opinions, and we all hope to see the name spread. Good luck!”

Nisan Banin, originally from New Jersey, hated hearing the term “Jersey-ite“ (often nasally pronounced “Joisey-ite”). Banin prefers the term Bellinghammer, whole-heartedly agreeing with Stenvers that “a rodent-based demonym is most unfortunate.”

“I offer an alternative that will strike fear in the hearts of our enemies. It is a name that could only come from war and legend- a name that will smash the Internet trolls who smear our reputation on the Urban Dictionary to a bloody paste. There can only be one name: Bellinghammer!

Some who call Bellingham their home are the descendants of those who fell the mightiest of trees; who tunneled the bowels of the earth for coal far below our fine city; and who caught the biggest fish ever seen in the Salish Sea. The generations who dwell here now deserve nothing less than a name that reflects the strength of our history. To hell with the honorless rodent-lovers and their childish labels!”

Mel Monkelis said that Bellinghamster should be accepted:

“Bellinghamster is an endearing term, and one that stands apart from any others, say: Bellinghamite, Seattlelite, etc. That's the whole point of a word that typifies a place, and a person that lives there.

We ought to embrace that name, have it part of the city's lingo when they talk about us. I swear, more people will recognize us across the country for embracing this term, and that is the whole point of this type of word, to let others recognize where you live.”

Comments on the blog post seemed to overwhelmingly lean in favor of “Bellinghamster,” but there were certainly some who preferred the other terms.

To see what a handful of people in downtown Bellingham thought about the topic yesterday afternoon, watch the video above.

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