Valleys can be peaceful, pleasant, or hidden – but can they be sudden?

What's puzzling isn't the lack of a documented explanation; it's the fact that everyone seems content with the name.

They're all good names for an area: Hidden Valley, Peaceful Valley, Pleasant Valley, Happy Valley. But Sudden Valley?

Ever since moving to this lovely, forested development near Bellingham, Wash., I've wondered: What's so sudden about it? To my surprise, an informal polling of local residents has produced mostly shrugs.

As I see it, a valley can be hidden, peaceful, or pleasant, and its inhabitants happy. And I suppose a residential development can be sudden, more or less. But I fail to see how a valley per se can be sudden. (Then again, I've yet to poll New Zealanders, who boast the only other Sudden Valley on the globe, as far as Google knows.)

I'd like to think the "sudden" refers to some abrupt geological event – perhaps an earthquake that uplifted the walls of this valley and somehow left a lake in its wake. But a glacier doubtless did these deeds, and we all know glaciers move at a, well, glacial pace – the polar opposite of sudden.

One resident believes that "sudden" does indeed reflect the developer's vision, nearly 40 years ago, of a lightning-quick transformation from nominal ranch into residential neighborhood.

This reminds me of Mark Twain's observation that the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. The "sudden" in Sudden Valley, though not the worst word, is nowhere near the right word.

As it happens, Sudden Valley is still being developed today, nearly 40 years after its first few cottages were constructed. I can name, in a manner of speaking, countless residential developments more sudden than that. By this criterion, Sudden Valley would be more aptly named Gradual Gulch.

Another theory is that "sudden" refers to the way the valley appears, all at once, as one drives toward it. But that would make it "SuddenLY Valley." And in any case, as a diminutive driver sitting low behind the wheel, I behold it through houses and trees only in brief, intermittent glimpses.

Such iffy theories prompt an equally plausible one of my own: When the developer purchased the unplatted property during the Pacific Northwest's renowned rainy season, the locals misheard him as he christened it "Sodden Valley."

The Bellingham Public Library has a file on Sudden Valley that goes back several decades. A helpful employee there shuffled through these clippings for several minutes as I stayed on the phone one day.

As a good reference librarian, she seemed as interested in my query as I was. But, she said, because the Bellingham newspaper wasn't indexed during the years Sudden Valley was first taking shape, my only recourse was to scan several years' worth of fine print on the microfiche reader in hopes that I might unearth an explanation. (I didn't have the heart to tell her that even I am not that curious.)

What's puzzling isn't so much the lack of a documented explanation; it's the fact that everyone but me (and maybe now the librarian) seems content with the valley's name as it is.

A community association employee who is researching the valley's history has likewise found nothing about the provenance of its name beyond the identity of the probable namer. "And he," she recently revealed, "is long gone."

She believes he also devised the nuanced street naming system that resulted in such confusibles as Lake Louise Court, Circle, Drive, and Road. Although such streets were recently renamed, there are still two Marigold Drives; in fact, they intersect. Considering the consternation this has caused, it's no wonder the namer is nowhere to be found.

Given the precedent of renamed streets, I am about to propose that we rename the valley. Oh, I can already hear the objections: After being Sudden Valley for 40 years, think of the confusion a name change would entail! But as every bride who's ever taken her husband's surname knows, it would be but a momentary inconvenience.

Even "Noisy Valley" would make more sense, thanks to continued construction.

But it's such a pretty place, deserving of a more mellifluous moniker. Why not call it "Emerald Glade" or "Evergreen Glen?"

In fact, a more descriptive name might actually spur (dare I say it?) sudden growth.

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