The city is comprised of several small towns and communities founded between 1854 and 1900, and consolidated in a long process ending in December of 1903. The towns included Sehome, Fairhaven, Whatcom, and New Whatcom. The name is from the bay on which the city is located.
The downtown consists primarily of Sehome and Whatcom.
Sehome was once a town on Bellingham Bay which combined with three others to form the present city of Bellingham in Whatcom County. It was the first town on Bellingham Bay being platted on May 8, 1858. It was named for Sehome, a sub-chief of Clallam Indians who married into the Samish tribe. A daughter of Sehome married Edmund Fitzhugh, manager of the Sehome Coal Mine and Sehome was a frequent visitor to the mine.
Whatcom was a community on the site of present-day Bellingham. It was one of four towns on Bellingham Bay which merged October 27, 1903 to form the city of Bellingham. The plat for Whatcom was filed July 24, 1858.