For five years the Board on Geographic Names of the U.S. Geological Survey has been playing with a hot potato: the question of whether the name of the tallest peak in North America - Mt. McKinley, in Alaska - should be officially changed to its orginal Indian name, "Denali."

The Alaska legislature and others have been pushing for Denali, which means "great one" and is what the natives up there call the twin-peaked mountain. Pushing back just as hard has been the Ohio congressional delegation, home state of the nation's 16th president, whose assassination moved his name to the mountain in 1896.

Three years ago the board had some public meetings on the name but, before it could make a judgment, an Ohio congressman introduced a resolution barring the change and the matter was frozen there. The Alaska Lands Bill now is carrying the load -- the House version bars the change, and a similar version was deleted from the Senate version of the bill.

Showing new nerve, the board has scheduled two public sessions on the matter, and, with some 20,000 signatures on one petition or another, there is no lack of sentiment on both sides.

I particularly like the proposed setting for the first session. It will be Nov. 5, at the Federal Building in Salt Lake City, Utah. A board spokesman explained rather sheepishly that with travel budgets being tight this year, that appeared to be as close to Alaska as the group could get.

Anyway, he added, the Alaskans have already been heard from on the issue, and this would give westerners a chance to state their opinions. It also will provided a good feature piece for newspapers and television in the day-after-election doldrums. The second meeting will be Nov. 14 -- here in Washington.