Monday, March 7, 2011

Abenaki Place Names

Who first lived in the area we now call Vermont/New Hampshire?

Place Names are another way to help students recognize that there were Native Americans in the land we now call Vermont/New Hampshire.

Connecting Now & Then to Place

Ask students if they know of any places in their area with Native American names then share with them a list of local Native American place names. Create a Google map with the place names then navigate a journey from one place to the next using Native place names.

e.g. How might you get from Mt. Ascutney to Lake Sunapee? Travel east from Kaskakadenak (Wide Mountain) to Kwanitekw (Long River). Follow the river south to Senomoziktekw (Sugar Maple River); then east up the river to Seninebes (Rock Lake).
Provide your students with a ½ sheet of construction paper. Have them carefully write their native word on the top. At the bottom, have them write the definition/translation. In between imagine and draw a picture of that definition.


  • Emphasize many Abenaki still inhabit this community
  • Emphasize Abenaki folk-ways and food-ways still inform our lives: paved roads trace Abenaki trails; planted fields trace the floodplains; we enjoy and recreate in Abenaki sacred places; and honor the seasonal harvests (sap run, fiddleheads, berries ripening) with celebration.
  • Native words - not always correctly interpreted or pronounced by Europeans – surround us today.
  • As Europeans heard Native Americans say a name they would apply these words to name places more permanently by placing the names on maps; and different groups might spell these words in different ways: for example, the name Lake Winnipesaukee has over 100 spellings.
Want to try an online version? We've created two interactive Place Name Activities:

Place Name Abenaki English Translation
Abenaki Wôbanakiak People of the Dawn
Alnôbak The People
Ammonoosuc Ômanosek Zibo Fishing River
Ascutney Kaskakadenak Wide Mountain
Connecticut Kwanitekw Long River
Contoocook Bagôntekw Butternut River
Coos Koasek Pine Tree Place
Mascoma Mazalopskok Zibo Clap Place River (also the name of a Sokwaki man)
Merrimack Molôdemak Zibo Deep Water River
Mississiquoi Wazawatekw Crooked River
Monadnock Menonadenak Smooth Mountain
Moosilauke Mozalhlakik Wadso Cow Moose Land Mountain
Ompompanoosuc Bemômanosek Zibo Fishing Place River
Passumpsic Pasômkasek Zibo Sandy Bottom River
Sunapee Seninebes Rock Lake
West River Wantastekw Lost River
Winnipesaukee Wiwinebeskik Lake Region Place
Winooski Winoskitekw Onion Land River

Original Wobanakik Map, Copyright 1995, Frederick M. Wiseman used by permission.

Our thanks to Steve Glazer, Poetics of Place, for his support in creating this lesson.

Background Resource: Rebecca Brown, ed., Where the Great River Rises, 132 - 137. This essay on Native Space includes a map and glossary of Native and European names in the Connecticut River watershed.

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