Here are excerpts of an article by Anchorage Daily News Outdoor Editor Craig Medred:
What to call that huge mountain to the north?
Many Alaskans call it Denali, which some people say translates as "the Great One."
The National Park Service, in its publications, says Denali translates as "the High One." Others have said Denali translates as "the Big One."
Is Denali really even the proper Native name for what remains, officially, Mount McKinley?
The U.S. Geological Survey's "Dictionary of Alaska Place Names" notes the Tanaina Indian name for McKinley "was reported as Denali, (but) the Tanaina Indian name is 'Doleika' or 'Traleika.' Each of these names is said to mean "the big one" or "the high one."
Russians, the first Caucasians to see the mountain, called it "Bulshaya Gora," or "big mountain" back in the late 1700s. That name is believed to have been in place before English Capt. James Cook came exploring the waters off Anchorage in 1778.
No one knows if he saw the monstrous blob of snow and ice as he made his way up Cook Inlet, but English explorer George Vancouver reported seeing it in 1794. He called it the "stupendous snow mountain," but didn't bother to hang an official name on it.
"The Big One," "The High One" or "The Great One" -- take your pick -- are more descriptive labels than names.
Nearly all of them still refer to the mountain as McKinley in conversation, too. The only people who seem to use "Denali" regularly are those who got here in the 1980s or later.
It's possible, I guess, given the shifting demographics of this state, that they are the majority now.
Or maybe the newcomers just haven't been here long enough to sort out all the many peaks. Could it be they simply have their mountains confused? Could the "Denali" to which "most Alaskans" are really referring be the one referenced by the late Dr. Rodman Wilson in the book "Tordrillo: Pioneer Climbs and Flights in the Tordrillo Mountains of Alaska"?
"Incidentally," the Harvard-educated physician wrote, "the Dena'ina name for Mount McKinley is Dghili Ka'a (big mountain), not Denali. Denal'iy is the name Eklutna Indians once used for Pioneer Peak, so familiar to residents of the Matanuska Valley. The word means 'one standing still' or 'one that watches.' "
It ended up being called "Mount McKinley" because prospector William Dickey wanted to get even with some argumentative trail mates. They were fans of using the silver standard to back the U.S. currency. Dickey favored the gold standard. So did Sen. William McKinley from Ohio.