Various theories exist over the etymology of the word Madawaska. One is that the river's name comes from the Algonquian word "Madoueskak", which means "land of the porcupine". In Maliseet, the word "Matawaskiyak" translates to "at the place where water flows out over grass", there is also speculation that it refers to the 'meeting of two rivers where there is grass'. The Madawaska river is a large drainage basin for Lake Temiscouata and other waterways from the north. Before the city of Edmundston changed the natural course of the river, the spring freshet would cause several branches of the river to flood the land resulting in various waterfalls.