List of place names in New England of aboriginal origin

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This is a List of place names in New England of aboriginal origin. New England is in the northeastern part of the United States, and comprises six states: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Listed are well-known names of towns, significant bodies of water, and mountains. This list is a work-in-progress, and is not meant to be comprehensive, as several thousand names exist.

Formation and transmission of names[edit]

All the names in this section come to us only through persons whose first language was English and only rarely knew any other. From the few sources who were bilingual, we are fortunate to have some concept of how some of the names were segmented in the languages from which they came. Those names often tend to predominate in lists such as these, just because they are more easily understood.

Most names were received by English settlers who had little idea what they meant. Being naturally curious, they asked the natives what the names meant or conjectured among themselves or both. The natives were faced with having to explain the name in a language they knew but rudimentarily. They interpreted freely, often giving the use or features of interest about the place rather than trying to explain the elements of their language to the English. They never had a linguist's understanding of the structure of their language. Their descendants, speaking primarily English, no longer knew how to produce meaningful utterances in the language of their native forefathers.

Consequently the names can be divided into roughly two categories: those for which the original morphology is known to some degree and those for which it is not. The meanings of the latter category are traditional only, but the tradition may not necessarily descend from a native speaker. It may have been a settler's conjecture, passed on through the social mechanism of the sacred words of the forefathers or simply because no other interpretation was available.

The mechanism can be seen most clearly in names for which both categories of meaning exist. You might read that a name is supposed to mean "the place of portage" or "the pines" when in fact those meanings are not even implied by the morphology of the name. It is entirely possible, however, that those places were used for those purposes. On the other hand some settler may have guessed that they were used for those purposes. In cases where there is no morphology there is little point in argument over the "correct meaning" of the name, an activity enjoyed by New Englanders since settlement times, and which also you will undoubtedly see much of in Wikipedia.

New England in the early 17th century when English colonists first landed was tenanted by variously named tribes for the most part speaking languages of the Algonquian family. Our aboriginals spoke an eastern branch of the group. It often happened that whole regions were named after the tribe inhabiting it, such as Massachusetts, nor does this appear to have been an English naming convention only. In this the aboriginals were non-different from the tribes of classical Europe, whose names still dot the map of Europe.

Like the tribal names of Europe, the native names descended from an antiquity long lost. The natives themselves may not have known what they meant. For these names we have mainly tradition, but even that should be regarded as more speculative than not.

Places named after tribes[edit]

Place names on this list represent a number of tribes speaking aboriginal languages within the Algonquian family, for the most part, if in warped or anglicized form:

Connecticut[edit]

Common dialects of the Algonquian languages: Hammonasset, Mahican, Montauk, Niantic, Paugussett, Pequot-Mohegan, Podunk, Poquonock, Quinnipiac, Tunxi, Wangunk

  • Connecticut, the state, and river: (in several dialects) "place of the long river" or "by the long tidal stream"

Maine[edit]

Common languages:

Massachusetts[edit]

Common languages:

  • Massachusetts (the state): (Natick) "by the great hills" (the hills of Milton, Blue Hill, south of Boston)

New Hampshire[edit]

Common Languages: Abnaki, Nipmuc, Pennacook

Rhode Island[edit]

Common languages:

Vermont[edit]

Common languages: Abnaki, Mahican

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Bright, William (2004). Native American Place Names of the United States. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
  • Huden, John C. (1962). Indian Place Names of New England, Museum of the American Indian Heye Foundation
  • O'Brien, Frank Waabu (2010). "Understanding Indian Place Names in Southern New England". Colorado: Bauu Press.
  • Trumbull, James H. (1881). "Indian Names of Places, etc., in and on the Borders of Connecticut: With Interpretations of Some of Them." Hartford, Conn: Lockwood & Brainerd (reprinted 1974).

External links[edit]