Bob Dotson wants to put his community on the map. Literally. That’s why he’s applied to the United States Geological Survey to have “San Tan Foothills” become the official name of the area where he’s lived for seven years.
The area, which surrounds the San Tan Mountains, is home to several hundred residents and has been established longer than the booming areas nearby in unincorporated Pinal County along Hunt Highway. Dotson said his community, which serves as a semirural buffer between the San Tan Mountain Regional Park and higher density development, is considered a village.
“We share a common interest,” he said. “It’s not unreasonable to consider these boundaries.”
Plus the name is already commonly used to refer to the area where he lives.
Jennifer Runyon, senior researcher for the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, received Dotson’s application. She said research needs to be done and a final approval from an interagency board representing nine federal departments will need to happen before “San Tan Foothills” can be made official.
“We don’t just take his word for it,” Runyon said. “We do a lot of research first.”
The agency is responsible for every place name in the county — a database including about 2 million names now, she said.
At any moment Runyon’s department has 300 proposed names to research and put through the process, she said.
“It could be several months before it goes to the board,” she said of Dotson’s proposal.
Dotson said the idea of becoming an officially named place “helps to solidify a community identity not only in the minds of those within the proposed boundary, but causes those outside the boundary to view it as an entire community that must be addressed in total.”
He said his move to get the community officially named should not be mistaken as a way to start the process for incorporation. Rather, he said, he wants to start a conversation about the community’s identity.
Even the map he sent to the USGS is negotiable, he said.
“The map doesn’t have to be exactly this way,” Dotson said. “We can talk about that, but these boundaries made sense to me.”
In addition to getting the name on maps and making it easier to give directions to visitors, having an official name will make it legal for those residents to use the return address “San Tan Foothills” and opens the door for the community to get a United States Postal Service ZIP code of its own, separate from the one it shares with Queen Creek now. Dotson also said they could seek a voting precinct for San Tan Foothills.
Runyon said the board is a reactive body that doesn’t go around looking for places or geographical features to name. She said people apply for a place name, the research is done and public feedback is collected, then the board meets once a month and votes.
“We look for local use and acceptance,” she said. “We want to know what the local people think.”
But Runyon said there is no such thing as a “slam dunk” case when it comes to naming a community.
“It’s amazing how emotional people can get about place names,” Runyon said. “It is a way people recognize themselves and where they live. We may think it’s pretty cut and dry, but we might find out that people don’t want to recognize this name for this community.”
To provide opinions to the USGS about the proposed name San Tan Foothills, e-mails can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.