Massachusetts Place Names

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					           Saugus Public Schools
                                                      Page 1 of 6
           23 Main Street
           Saugus, MA 01906-2347

Teaching with Historic Places	                                         Lesson Plan
                          Massachusetts Place Names

 Veterans Memorial School 
 Anne R. Wilson

 Language & Social Studies

The linguistic and historic influence and importance of local Native American culture can be in
seen in local (Massachusetts) place names. This could be part of a local geography unit, part of
a study of Native culture, or part of an introductory unit to the study of the European settlement
of New England.

• The students will become aware of the current
  usage of Native American place names in Massa-
  chusetts, that the words have meaning, and the
  stories behind or meaning of some of the names.

• Bond, C. Lawrence, Native Names of New Eng-
  land Towns and Villages: Translating 199 Names
  Derived from Native American Words; Native
  Names, P.O. Box 862, Reading, Massachusetts,
  01867; Second Edition, 1993.
• An easy-to-read town map of Massachusetts for
  each group of about 4 students.

Initiating Activities:
Ask the students the name of the Ironworks town
(Saugus), and the State (Massachusetts). Ask if they
know where the names “Saugus” or “Massachu-
setts” come from. Do they have a meaning, or are                  Camp Nihan in Saugus.
they just words?

Some may know that the words are Native American names, perhaps even that they come from
the Algonquin language. They probably don’t know the meanings of these words.

(It should be explained that many English-speaking people have tried to translate the Native
names and the difficulties in doing so, including the fact that the importance of their language
was not valued, and therefore not recorded, by the early colonists, that it was a spoken, not writ-
ten, language, and therefore was easily lost, and that many Natives died in the early years of
                            A Teaching American History Grant
           Saugus Public Schools
                                                      Page 2 of 6
           23 Main Street
           Saugus, MA 01906-2347

Teaching with Historic Places	                                         Lesson Plan
colonization, among other reasons. As such, some of the words can be interpreted in different
ways, depending on how they are pronounced and what dialect is used. For this lesson we are
using one author’s interpretations, based on his ten years of study of other people’s research.)

Keeping the above paragraph in mind, it can be explained that, according to C. Lawrence Bond,
a man who studied many people’s research into the Native Algonquin languages, spoken by the
New England tribes, the town name “Saugus” comes from “(E)sogoo”, meaning “fish weir”, and
“s” meaning “small”. He feels that the name means that the river was the site of a “small fish

 (Most probably will not know what a fish weir is, so it can be explained that building a fish weir
is an ancient way of catching fish by building a trap in a river. The fish can swim in but cannot
find their way out and can be easily collected, especially in a tidal river. The Saugus River is not
very wide or deep, and those who are familiar with it should easily picture how a weir could be
built there.)

The name “Massachusetts” comes from the name of the Native tribe that lived around the Boston
area, including the Saugus area. The name of the tribe comes from “Mass”, meaning “great” or
“greater”, “achu” or “adchu”, meaning “mountain” or “hill”, and “ett” or “et”, a locative suffix.
Put together, the name means “the place of the great hill”, generally believed to be a reference to
the Great Blue Hill in Milton, Mass., easily seen from the Boston peninsula.

As the English language names many places for their features (such as “Great Blue Hill”, men-
tioned above, “Rockport”, “Marblehead”, or “Long Island”), so, too, did the Natives. Many of
the names still exist and many have stories to their names which are interesting, or at least make
sense, once you know what they mean.

Secondary Activity:
Now that the students know two local Native names and their stories, it is time to start a Name
Search activity. Give each group of about four students a map of Massachusetts. Have them
search the map for what they think might be Native names. Have a recorder (or two) write down
the names they find. After about 5-10 minutes pull the class back together to compile a class list
of some of the names which they have found which are Native names. This list can be added to
over the next few days.

Culminating Activity:
Tell the meanings of some of the following vocabulary below, showing how the name tells
something about the history or location (referring back to the maps and their knowledge of the

                            A Teaching American History Grant
           Saugus Public Schools
                                                      Page 3 of 6
           23 Main Street
           Saugus, MA 01906-2347

Teaching with Historic Places	                                         Lesson Plan
“SWAMPSCOTT” = “At the red rock”
(M’)squi = “red”; ompsk = “rock”; ott or et = (locative suffix)
(The red rocks are in the city of Lynn, Massachusetts, at the border of Swampscott.)
“MATTAPAN” (originally “Mattapannock”) = “Evil spread about place”
Matta or matchey = “evil”; pan or panaeu = “it is spread about”; ock = “land” or “place”
(In 1617, disease killed so many Natives in the area of what is now South Boston that they lay
unburied, definitely a sign of “evil spread about”. Those who survived came back for many
years to the area to hold a memorial ceremony in the area which is now K Street. In 1630 Puri-
tans settled the area and called it Dorchester, but the name Mattapan was applied to an area on
the Neponset River, apparently without understanding its etymology or meaning.)
“NAHANT” = “There it stands out to sea”
N’ = (demonstrative) “there”; ahan = “out to sea”; t = (locative suffix)
(Nahant is a peninsula which stands about 2 miles out to sea from Lynn, Massachusetts.)
“PONKAPOAG” = “Shallow pond”
Pongqui = “shallow”; pog or paug = “pond”
(This is a village and a pond in Canton, Massachusetts.)
(This is the shortened name of the native who sold off
much Salem land. It applies to a lake in the town of Wake-
field, Massachusetts. The lake is the source of the Saugus
River which powered the Ironworks.)
(This is a Native word indicating a chief, not a place. It
was used by the English as a proper noun and now applies
to a bridge, village, and beach on Cape Cod, Massachu-
“COHASSET” = “At the stone ledge”
Co or ko = “continuous”; hass or hassun = “stone”; et
(locative suffix)
(This is a town on the South Shore of Massachusetts.)            Statue of Massasoit in Plymouth.
“SCITUATE” = “That which is green”
(Mo)skitu = “grass”; ate or auk = “land”
                           A Teaching American History Grant
           Saugus Public Schools
                                                       Page 4 of 6
           23 Main Street
           Saugus, MA 01906-2347

Teaching with Historic Places	                                          Lesson Plan
(Seen from the sea, the four cliffs were grassy, contrasted with Cohasset, Massachusetts.)
(This is named for a Native chief, Iyanough and is a town on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.)
(This is the name of a tribe, not a place. The English named a town after the tribe.)

Some other names and translations are included below:

“ACUSHNET” = “head of tide”                       “AGAWAM” = “land beneath
                                                  water” (marshes)
“ANNISQUAM” = “bare rock”                         “ASSABET” = “Where the river turns
                                                  back” (tidal)
“ASSINIPPI” = “stony brook”                       “CHAPPAQUIDDICK” = “separate island”
“CHAUBUNAGUNGAMAUG” = “a                          “CHICOPEE” = “rapids”
boundary marker”
“HOUSATONIC” = “area beyond the                   “MANOMET” = “at the look-out place”
“MASHPEE” = “the greater cove”                    “MATTAPOISETT” = “uncleared area”
“MISHAWUM” = “great neck”                         “MYSTIC” = “big woods”

“NAGOG” = “corner of land”                        “NANTASKET” = “There it is grassy”

“NANTUCKET” = “Tidal run around a sharp “NEPONSET” = “at the spread out place”

The students will be directed to write a short paragraph telling which story they found the most
interesting. They will also do the following worksheet (page 5) to show that they learned some
of the place names and their meanings. For extra credit they can use the following list to re-
search the location and tell how the name applies.

Selected Additional Bibliography:
Douglass-Lithgow, R.A., LLD, Dictionary of American Indian Place Names in New England,
Salem Press, Salem, Mass., 1909

                            A Teaching American History Grant
          Saugus Public Schools
                                                      Page 5 of 6
          23 Main Street
          Saugus, MA 01906-2347

Teaching with Historic Places	                                          Lesson Plan
Gookin, Warner F., Capawack, Martha’s Vineyard, Dukes County Historical Society, Reynolds
Printing, New Bedford, Mass., 1947

Horsford, Eben N., Indian Names of Boston, John Wilson and Sons, Cambridge, Mass., 1886

Huden, John C., Indian Place Names of New England, Museum of the American Indian, Heye
Foundation, New York, 1962

                Some Native American artifacts in the Saugus Iron Works collection.

Sweetser, M. F., King’s Handbook of Boston Harbor, Moses King Corp. Publishers and Engrav-
ers, 1888

Trumbull, James Hammond, Composition of Indian Geographical Names, Connecticut Histori-
cal Society, Hartford, 1870

Trumbull, James Hammond, Indian Place Names in and on the Borders of Connecticut, Case,
Lockwood and Brainerd, Hartford, 1881

Trumbull, James Hammond, Natick Dictionary, Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 25,
Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C., 1903

Weeks, Alvin G., Massasoit of the Wampanoags, Privately printed for the Massasoit Memorial
Association, 1920

                           A Teaching American History Grant
            Name: _________________________ Date: __________
                            Native Names Quiz
Directions: Draw a line to match each place name with its translation.

Saugus            *                                               *                  “shallow pond”

Massachusetts     *                                               *                “small fish weir”

Hyannis           *                                               *         “place of the great hill”

Swampscott        *                                               *        named for a native chief

Nahant            *                                               *        “evil spread about place”

Mattapan          *                                               *                 “at the red rock”

Ponkapoag         *                                               *      “There it stands out to sea”

Sagamore          *                                               *            title of a Native chief

Scituate          *                                               *           “That which is green”

Natick            *                                               *          Name of a Native tribe

                              Massachusetts Place Names
                               May 2005

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