Cruise ship passengers may have passed the Arctic mountain without knowing that they were taking photos of a mountain whose discoverers are now accused of racism.
The name first appeared on a British map in 1625 and, according to Nygaard, sailors named the mountain and its valley "Negro" after noticing the presence of a disproportionate amount of black stone in the area.
Nygaard contacted the Norwegian Polar Institute, which would be in charge of changing the controversial name. However, the institute's committee usually only corrects grammar mistakes and makes slight adjustments. Moreover, nobody has ever complained about the names of the features, meaning the institute isn't even legally allowed to discuss it. According to the committee's rules, a potentially offensive name can only be changed when someone submits an official complaint.
Talking to Svalbard Posten, Oddveig Øien Ørvoll, head of the Polar Institute's name committee, defended the procedure by saying that many names had originated centuries ago, and that historical considerations should be taken into account. Nevertheless, she would investigate, she told the Norwegian newspaper.
Rune Berglund Steen, who works for the Norwegian Centre against Racism, told Svalbard Posten that the controversial names should be changed in order not to offend certain groups, although it might not be perceived as racist by all Norwegians. However, Steen also added that his country "committed far worse atrocities" against Africans, than inventing names such as "Negro Mountain."
Norway's neighbor, Sweden, has taken a tougher stance on names that could be considered offensive to certain groups. In February, Sweden's Ornithological Society changed the names of bird species that used to be called "gypsy bird" or "negro." The insult "kaffir," used by whites against blacks in South Africa, also resembled a Swedish bird species called "kaffer." There were other offensive bird names in Sweden, such as "Hottentot" — apparently inspired by the name of the language of an indigenous southwest African tribe called Khoikhoi, yet also a derogatory term for that tribe.
When Sweden's Ornithological Society completed its first-ever global list of all 10,709 Swedish bird names two weeks ago, the organization also announced some awkward name changes. As a result, several of them have now been changed: "negro" bird, for instance, is now called "black" bird, as WorldViews reported back then.