Take away the Grand Canyon, and the town of Tusayan probably wouldn’t exist.
Most of the businesses in the tiny town just outside the canyon’s South Rim entrance cater to tourists at the national park. The two locales even share a zip code.
That has town officials thinking maybe “Tusayan” isn’t the best-suited name. They are floating the idea of changing the community’s moniker to “The Town of Grand Canyon,” ”Grand Canyon South” or something similar that reflects its ties to the Grand Canyon and gives it a better marketing tool.
“We see that as a no-brainer,” Mayor Greg Bryan said.
Plus, he said, “Tusayan” (pronounced TOO’-say-ohn) also sounds too much like “Tucson,” on the opposite end of the state.
The town is planning a public meeting in April to discuss a possible name change that could be referred to the ballot in August. While residents agree any name with the words “Grand Canyon” would be more recognizable, some question the need to rush.
“We are very tied to the Grand Canyon, and it (Tusayan) does have a history,” said Clarinda Vail, whose family was among the earliest settlers. “There is more to a town’s name than marketing. There is history.”
For the thousands of people who drive to the South Rim every day, Tusayan is impossible to miss. The town of 550 with its modest scattering of hotels, restaurants and gift shops — some of which already use Grand Canyon in branding — incorporated four years ago, but its history dates to before the creation of Grand Canyon National Park.
The exact meaning of the word “Tusayan” changes with the American Indian tribe it is traced to. Generally, it refers to an area with buttes or mesas, and where people gather. Spaniards referred to the area that Hopis once occupied as “The Province of Tusayan,” according to the National Park Service.
When building a highway through the community, the state of Arizona picked up the name from a local bar and posted a sign declaring the private property “Tusayan.” The name remains in a museum and pueblo ruins within Grand Canyon National Park and a ranger district on the Kaibab National Forest.
Changing the town’s name to something that incorporates “Grand Canyon” would mean changes in logos, stationary and signage. Bryan said that cost hasn’t been estimated yet. The change might also prompt confusion with mail, especially if the national park and what could be “The Town of Grand Canyon, AZ” retain the same zip code.
Bryan said town officials believe it would make good business sense to change the name, but they want to gauge public opinion first.
“It isn’t intended to change things just to make a change,” he said. “It’s intended to improve the business climate and make it that much easier for the visitor to find us.”