The Composition of Indian Geographical Names - Part 1

Part 1

The Composition of Indian Geographical Names.

by J. Hammond Trumbull.



A proper name has been defined to be "a mere mark put upon an individual, and of which it is the characteristic property _to be dest.i.tute of meaning_."[1] If we accept this definition, it follows that there are no proper names in the aboriginal languages of America.

Every Indian synthesis--names of persons and places not excepted--must "preserve the consciousness of its roots," and must not only have a meaning but be so framed as to convey that meaning with precision, to all who speak the language to which it belongs. Whenever, by phonetic corruption or by change of circ.u.mstance, it loses its self-interpreting or self-defining power, it must be discarded from the language. "It requires tradition, society, and literature to maintain forms which can no longer be a.n.a.lyzed at once."[2] In our own language, such forms may hold their places by prescriptive right or force of custom, and names absolutely unmeaning, or applied without regard to their original meaning, are accepted by common consent as the distinguishing marks of persons and places. We call a man William or Charles, Jones or Brown,--or a town, New Lebanon, Cincinnati, Baton Rouge, or Big Bethel--just as we put a number on a policeman's badge or on a post-office box, or a trademark on an article of merchandise; and the number and the mark are as truly and in nearly the same sense proper names as the others are.

[Footnote 1: Mill's Logic, B. I. ch. viii.]

[Footnote 2: Max Muller, Science of Language, (1st Series,) p. 292.]

Not that personal or proper names, in any language, were _originally_ mere arbitrary sounds, devoid of meaning. The first James or the first Brown could, doubtless, have given as good a reason for his name as the first Abraham. But changes of language and lapse of time made the names independent of the reasons, and took from them all their significance. Patrick is not now, _eo nomine_, a 'patrician;' Bridget is not necessarily 'strong' or 'bright;' and in the name of Mary, hallowed by its a.s.sociations, only the etymologist can detect the primitive 'bitterness.' Boston is no longer 'St. Botolph's Town;'

there is no 'Castle of the inhabitants of Hwiccia'

(_Hwic-wara-ceaster_) to be seen at Worcester; and Hartford is neither 'the ford of harts,' (which the city seal has made it,) nor 'the red ford,' which its name once indicated.

In the same way, many Indian geographical names, after their adoption by Anglo-American colonists, became unmeaning sounds. Their original character was lost by their transfer to a foreign tongue. Nearly all have suffered some mutilation or change of form. In many instances, hardly a trace of true original can be detected in the modern name.

Some have been separated from the localities to which they belonged, and a.s.signed to others to which they are etymologically inappropriate.

A mountain receives the name of a river; a bay, that of a cape or a peninsula; a tract of land, that of a rock or a waterfall. And so 'Ma.s.sachusetts' and 'Connecticut' and 'Narragansett' have come to be _proper names_, as truly as 'Boston' and 'Hartford' are in their cis-Atlantic appropriation.

The Indian languages tolerated no such 'mere marks.' Every name _described_ the locality to which it was affixed. The description was sometimes _topographical_; sometimes _historical_, preserving the memory of a battle, a feast, the dwelling-place of a great sachem, or the like; sometimes it indicated one of the _natural products_ of the place, or the _animals_ which resorted to it; occasionally, its _position_ or _direction_ from a place previously known, or from the territory of the nation by which the name was given,--as for example, 'the land on the other side of the river,' 'behind the mountain,' 'the east land,' 'the half-way place,' &c. The same name might be, in fact it very often was, given to more places than one; but these must not be so near together that mistakes or doubts could be occasioned by the repet.i.tion. With this precaution, there was no reason why there might not be as many 'Great Rivers,' 'Bends,' 'Forks,' and 'Water-fall places' as there are Washingtons, Franklins, Unions, and Fairplays in the list of American post-offices.

With few exceptions, the structure of these names is simple. Nearly all may be referred to one of three

I. Those formed by the union of two elements, which we will call _adjectival_ and _substantival_;[3] with or without a locative suffix or post-position meaning 'at,' 'in,' 'by,' 'near,' &c.

[Footnote 3: These terms, though not strictly appropriate to Indian synthesis, are sufficiently explicit for the purposes of this paper.

They are borrowed from the author of "Words and Places" (the Rev.

Isaac Taylor), who has employed them (2d ed., p. 460) as equivalents of Forstemann's "Bestimmungswort" and "Grundwort," (_Die deutschen Ortsnamen._ Nordhausen, 1863, pp. 26-107, 109-174). In Indian names, the "Bestimmungswort" sometimes corresponds to the English adjective--sometimes to a noun substantive--but is more generally an _adverb_.]

II. Those which have a single element, the _substantival_ or 'ground-word,' with its locative suffix.

III. Those formed from verbs, as participials or verbal nouns, denoting a _place where_ the action of the verb is performed. To this cla.s.s belong, for example, such names as _Mushauwomuk_ (Boston), 'where there is going-by-boat,' _i.e._, a ferry, or canoe-crossing.

Most of these names, however, may be shown by rigid a.n.a.lysis to belong to one of the two preceding, which comprise at least nine-tenths of all Algonkin local names which have been preserved.

The examples I shall give of these three, will be taken from Algonkin languages; chiefly from the Ma.s.sachusetts or Natick (which was substantially the same as that spoken by the Narragansetts and Connecticut Indians), the Abnaki, the Lenni-Lenape or Delaware, the Chippewa or Ojibway, and the Knisteno or Cree.[4]

[Footnote 4: It has not been thought advisable to attempt the reduction of words or names taken from different languages to a uniform orthography. When no authorities are named, it may be understood that the Ma.s.sachusetts words are taken from Eliot's translation of the Bible, or from his Indian Grammar; the Narragansett, from Roger Williams's Indian Key, and his published letters; the Abnaki, from the Dictionary of Rale (Rasles), edited by Dr. Pickering; the Delaware, from Zeisberger's Vocabulary and his Grammar; the Chippewa, from Schoolcraft (Sch.), Baraga's Dictionary and Grammar (B.), and the Spelling Books published by the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions; and the Cree, from Howse's Grammar of that language.

The character _[oo]_ (_oo_ in 'food;' _w_ in 'Wabash,' 'Wisconsin'), used by Eliot, has been subst.i.tuted in Abnaki words for the Greek [Greek: ou ligature] of Rale and the Jesuit missionaries, and for the [Greek: omega] of Campanius. A small [n] placed above the line, shows that the vowel which it follows is _nasal_,--and replaces the n employed for the same purpose by Rale, and the short line or dash placed under a vowel, in Pickering's alphabet.

In Eliot's notation, _oh_ usually represents the sound of _o_ in _order_ and in _form_,--that of broad _a_; but sometimes it stands for short _o_, as in _not_.]

Of names of the _first_ cla.s.s, in central and southern New England, some of the more common substantival components or 'ground-words' are those which denote _Land_ or _Country_, _River_, _Water_, _Lake_ or _Pond_, _Fishing-place_, _Rock_, _Mountain_, _Inclosure_, and _Island_.

1. The Ma.s.sachusetts OHKE (Narr. _auke_; Delaware, _hacki_; Chip.

_ahke_; Abnaki, _'ki_;) signifies LAND, and in local names, PLACE or COUNTRY. The final vowel is sometimes lost in composition. With the locative suffix, it becomes _ohkit_ (Del. _hacking_; Chip. _ahki[n]_; Abn. _kik_;) _at_ or _in_ a place or country.

To the Narragansetts proper, the country east of Narragansett Bay and Providence River was _wa[n]pan-auke_, 'east land;' and its people were called by the Dutch explorers, _Wapenokis_, and by the English, _Wampanoags_. The tribes of the upper St. Lawrence taught the French, and tribes south of the Piscataqua taught the English, to give the name of East-landers--_Abenaquis_, or _Abinakis_--to the Indians of Maine. The country of the Delawares was 'east land,' _Wapanachki_, to Algonkin nations of the west.

The '_Chawwonock_,' or '_Chawonocke_,' of Capt. John Smith,--on what is now known as Chowan River, in Virginia and North Carolina,--was, to the Powhattans and other Virginian tribes, the 'south country,' or _sowan-ohke_, as Eliot wrote it, in Gen. xxiv. 62.

With the adjectival _sucki_, 'dark-colored,' 'blackish,' we have the aboriginal name of the South Meadow in Hartford,--_sucki-ohke_, (written _Sicaiook_, _Suckiaug_, &c.), 'black earth.'

_Wuskowhanan-auk-it_, 'at the pigeon country,' was the name (as given by Roger Williams) of a "place where these fowl breed abundantly,"--in the northern part of the Nipmuck country (now in Worcester county, Ma.s.s.).

'_Kiskatamenakook_,' the name of a brook (but originally, of some locality near the brook) in Catskill, N.Y.,[5] is _kiskato-minak-auke_, 'place of thin-sh.e.l.led nuts' (or s.h.a.g-bark hickory nuts).

[Footnote 5: Doc. Hist. of New York (4to), vol. iii. p. 656.]

2. RIVER. _Seip_ or _sepu_ (Del. _sipo_; Chip. _s[=e]p[=e]_; Abn.

_sip[oo]_;) the Algonkin word for 'river' is derived from a root that means 'stretched out,' 'extended,' 'become long,' and corresponds nearly to the English 'stream.' This word rarely, if ever, enters into the composition of local names, and, so far as I know, it does not make a part of the name of any river in New England. _Mississippi_ is _missi-sipu_, 'great river;' _Kitchi-sipi_, 'chief river' or 'greatest river,' was the Montagnais name of the St. Lawrence;[6] and _Miste-shipu_ is their modern name for the Moise or 'Great River'

which flows from the lakes of the Labrador peninsula into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.[7]

[Footnote 6: Jesuit Relations, 1633, 1636, 1640.]

[Footnote 7: Hind's Exploration of Labrador, i. 9, 32.]

Near the Atlantic seaboard, the most common substantival components of river names are (1) _-tuk_ and (2) _-hanne_, _-han_, or _-huan_.

Neither of these is an independent word. They are inseparable nouns-generic, or generic affixes.

-TUK (Abn. _-teg[oo]e_; Del. _-ittuk_;) denotes a river whose waters are driven _in waves_, by tides or wind. It is found in names of tidal rivers and estuaries; less frequently, in names of _broad and deep_ streams, not affected by tides. With the adjectival _missi_, 'great,'

it forms _missi-tuk_,--now written _Mystic_,--the name of 'the great river' of Boston bay, and of another wide-mouthed tidal river in the Pequot country, which now divides the towns of Stonington and Groton.

Near the eastern boundary of the Pequot country, was the river which the Narragansetts called _Paquat-tuk_, sometimes written _Paquetock_, now _Pawcatuck_, 'Pequot river,'--the present eastern boundary of Connecticut. Another adjectival prefix, _pohki_ or _pahke_, 'pure,'

'clear,' found in the name of several tidal streams, is hardly distinguishable from the former, in the modern forms of _Pacatock_, _Paucatuck_, &c.

_Quinni-tuk_ is the 'long tidal-river.' With the locative affix, _Quinni-tuk-ut_, 'on long river,'--now _Connecticut_,--was the name of the valley, or lands both sides of the river. In one early deed (1636), I find the name written _Quinetucquet_; in another, of the same year, _Quenticutt_. Roger Williams (1643) has _Qunnihticut_, and calls the Indians of this region _Quintik-oock_, i.e. 'the long river people.' The _c_ in the second syllable of the modern name has no business there, and it is difficult to find a reason for its intrusion.

'_Lenapewihittuck_' was the Delaware name of 'the river of the Lenape,' and '_Mohicannittuck_,' of 'the river of the Mohicans'

(Hudson River).[8]

[Footnote 8: Heckewelder's Historical account, &c., p. 33. He was mistaken in translating "the word _hittuck_," by "a rapid stream."]

Of _Pawtucket_ and _Pawtuxet_, the composition is less obvious; but we have reliable Indian testimony that these names mean, respectively, 'at the falls' and 'at the little falls.' Pequot and Narragansett interpreters, in 1679, declared that Blackstone's River, was "called in Indian _Pautuck_ (which signifies, a Fall), because there the fresh water falls into the salt water."[9] So, the upper falls of the Quinebaug river (at Danielsonville, Conn.) were called "_Powntuck_, which is a general name for all Falls," as Indians of that region testified.[10] There was another Pautucket, 'at the falls' of the Merrimac (now Lowell); and another on Westfield River, Ma.s.s.

_Pawtuxet_, i.e. _pau't-tuk-es-it_, is the regularly formed diminutive of _paut-tuk-it_. The village of Pawtuxet, four miles south of Providence, R.I., is "at the little falls" of the river to which their name has been transferred. The first settlers of Plymouth were informed by Samoset, that the place which they had chosen for their plantation was called '_Patuxet_,'--probably because of some 'little falls' on Town Brook.[11] There was another 'Pautuxet,' or 'Powtuxet,'

on the Quinebaug, at the lower falls; and a river 'Patuxet'

(Patuxent), in Maryland. The same name is ingeniously disguised by Campanius, as '_Poaetquessing_,' which he mentions as one of the towns of the Indians on the Delaware, just below the lower falls of that river at Trenton; and 'Poutaxat' was understood by the Swedes to be the Indian name both of the river and bay.[12] The adjectival _pawt-_ or _pauat-_ seems to be derived from a root meaning 'to make a loud noise.' It is found in many, perhaps in all Algonkin languages. '_Pawating_,' as Schoolcraft wrote it, was the Chippewa name of the Sault Ste. Marie, or Falls of St. Mary's River,--p.r.o.nounced _pou-at-ing'_, or _pau-at-u[n]_, the last syllable representing the locative affix,--"at the Falls." The same name is found in Virginia, under a disguise which has. .h.i.therto prevented its recognition. Capt. John Smith informs us that the "place of which their great Emperor taketh his name" of _Powhatan_, or _Pawatan_, was near "the Falls" of James River,[13] where is now the city of Richmond. 'Powatan' is _pauat-hanne_, or 'falls on a rapid stream.'

[Footnote 9: Col. Records of Connecticut, 1677-89, p. 275.]

[Footnote 10: Chandler's Survey of the Mohegan country, 1705.]