A large area of coastal waters off the south coast of British Columbia were officially named the Salish Sea by both First Nations and government leaders at a ceremony in Victoria on Thursday.

The new name doesn't replace any of the existing official names for Puget Sound, the Juan de Fuca Strait or the Strait of Georgia near Vancouver.

Instead the original names will be retained, but the name Salish Sea will be used to indicate the entire area. The name refers to the language of the First Nations groups that originally occupied the area.

B.C. Lt.-Gov. Steven Point and Aboriginal Relations Minister George Abbott attended an official naming ceremony Thursday with members of the Songhees and other Coast Salish nations.

A canoe, hand-carved by Point andKwagiulth Hereditary Chief Tony Hunt, was christened "Salish Sea," then given to the navy to mark its centennial.

Point, himself of aboriginal descent, said the name pays homage to First Nations history and reflects a growing understanding of native culture.

"Coast Salish peoples have traversed these waters for thousands of years, and this name pays homage to our collective history," he said. "Today's celebration reflects the growing understanding and appreciation of our cultures. It is another step in the bridge of reconciliation."

The new name was originally proposed by Bert Webber, a retired Western Washington University professor of environmental and marine science who was at Thursday's event in Victoria.

The name was later endorsed by the province along with the Geographical Names Board of Canada, the Washington State Geographical Names Board and the U.S. Board on Geographic Names in March 2009.

Last December, B.C.'s Queen Charlotte Islands were officially renamed Haida Gwaii as part of a historic reconciliation agreement between the province and the Haida Nation.