If you were at an International Airport somewhere, saw these names of locations, and took a flight to one of these places while other passengers did the same thing, you would have a crowded landing. They all share a common destination: Guam. In this magnificently researched publication, Professor Marjorie Driver, of the Micronesian Area Research Center, traced the possible origin of the name, Guam,which appeared intermittently in reports and publications for centuries but did not enter into common usage until the middle of the last century.
To paraphrase Professor Driver's findings, the phonetic similarities of the names associated with our island over the years, lead us to believe that our ancestors apparently told the early European visitors the name of our island; however, with no common language, either written or spoken, what was uttered was not necessarily what ended up being recorded. Presumably, our ancestors had only one name for the island but that same name eventually appeared in various mutations of spelling and pronunciation, depending on the national language of the person doing the written record.
A perusal of the various names that have been used in referring to Guam appear to be at wide variance with one another. But you will note upon closer examination the consistency of some letters such as UAN and M which, together with other letters, form a unique sound. Thus, it is easy to understand how a place called Guahan by some explorers could be mistakenly listed as Guan or Guhan by others. Ironically, when Father San Vitores named our island, San Juan, he inadvertently chose a name with the letters UAN adding a little more mystery to the origin of the name, Guam.
By the time of the Spanish-American War at the turn of this century, the name Guam was widely used and accepted internationally. Up to that period, there were approximately twenty different names by which Guam was noted on explorers' and missionaries' diaries, maps, charts, and letters.
Although almost two and a half centuries have passed since Father San Vitores changed the name of our island chain from Islas de los Ladrones to Islas Marianas, both of these names appeared in the Treaty papers signed by the U. S. and Spain in l898. The first U. S. Naval Governor of Guam, Captain Richard P. Leary, took strong exception to the use of Ladrone Island and one of his first official acts was to request that the name, Guam, L.I., be changed to Isle of Guam, Pacific Ocean.
Although there were other variations used, the name, Guam, M.I., eventually became the official designation of Guam and it was called that for the first half of this century. During the Japanese occupation in World War II (1941-1944), they renamed the island, Omiya-To.
After Guam's liberation, other names appeared in reference to Guam. Duva, was the military code name for Guam. For military mail destined for Guam, the address was Navy 926. Our own U. S. Post Office seemed uncertain: one sign noted, U. S. Post Office, Agana while another signed posted, U. S. Post Office, Guam, Guam.
When the Organic Act for Guam came into effect in 1950, Guam's status changed from that of a possession to that of an unincorporated territory and we have been using Territory of Guam, United States of America, as the official name for the past 47 years.
Before we leave this topic, ponder these: in the early history of Guam, our ancestors had a common name for our island but others had difficulty recording and stating it properly; today, we are known as Guam, or Territory of Guam, but we seem to send mixed signals on what we want others to call us.
When you land on Guam, one of the most prosperous communities in the Pacific, the chances are that one of the flight attendants will announce, "Welcome to the island of Guam." In other places, it is welcome to Hawaii, welcome to Samoa, welcome to the Philippines. But, here, somehow, it is still just a sandy duney greeting to an island. And this is l997.
When you drive around Guam, you are likely to go by one of the most technologically advanced military bases in the Pacific and you feel proud that Guam plays such an important role in world-wide telecommunications. Then your eyes focus on something you have not seen except on military bases since the Organic Act was enacted in 1950: Guam, M.I.. On another base is a variation of this, M.I. GUAM. And this is 1997.
One could easily dismiss the use of the names, Island of Guam and Guam, Mariana Islands, as oversights that could be easily rectified. After all, everyone knows that we are the Territory of Guam, United States of America, as shown on this seal. In fact, for many years now, we have spent millions of dollars in our campaign to attract people to visit Guam, USA.
Then, something else catches your eye. The American flag that used to fly next to the Guam flag over the Guam Legislature has been removed and replaced by the flag of the United Nations. And so we began 1997 with a flag other than our own flying over the Legislature of the Territory of Guam, United States of America. But, you know, even my aging eyes tell me that the U.N. flag was upside down. Wasn't it?