It’s uncertain whether Valdez had a name prior to the late 1700s, but if it did, it wouldn’t be the first time the area would have a name change.
The area was historically known as a maritime hunting territory of the Chugach Eskimo; however it’s unknown if there was a native village in Valdez prior to its first non-native visitors.
It wasn’t until Captain Cook sailed into Prince William Sound in 1778 the area received its first name: Sandwich Sound. Cook named the area for the Earl of Sandwich, a 17century title created in 1660 for the naval commander Admiral Sir Edward Montagu.
Somehow Sandwich Sound just didn’t stick, though. Somehow. Montagu would receive some recognition, however, having some part in the naming of Montague Islands, which Cook also named.
Indeed, upon his return to England, Cook would rename the area at the behest of his map editors. Prince William IV, also known as “Silly Billy,” would bequeath his name to the sound.
It wasn’t until 1790 when Spanish cartographer Lt. Salvador Fidalgo was commissioned to explore Alaska and investigate Russian activity in the area, reestablishing Spain’s claim to the area would the territory receive much of its Spanish influence.
Fidalgo named a number of areas during his time in Alaska, including Cordova, Port Gravina and Columbia Bay. He was the first non-native (although he was guided by a pair of them) to approach Columbia Glacier, giving the glacier its name as well. He wouldn’t stay on the glacier long, though, and he would soon find himself exploring a nearby bay. That bay he would eventually name the Bay of Valdés after Admiral Antonio Valdés, the director of the Royal Artillery Factory of La Cavada and Minister of the Indies at the time.
With Russia’s sale of Alaska to the United States finalized, whispers and rumors of gold started making their way to the Lower 48, and in 1897 gold fever started making its way north. The Port of Valdés started growing in population and popularity. The port’s popularity was jeopardized only one year later, though.
In 1898, America entered into a conflict with Spain -- the Spanish-American war -- the result of America’s intervention with Cuba’s war for independence.
It was a contentious period for American-Spanish relations, and the ramifications of the conflict were being felt as far north as Alaska, and specifically the Port of Valdés.
So it was in an attempt to distance itself from any ties with Spain, that the decision was made to gentrify its name.
Thus, the Port of Valdés became simply known as Valdez (pronounced “Valdeez,” guys).