Garrison Keiller gets a lot of mileage out of the fictional New England town "Passacautawattaquoddymoggin", or however it is spelled. Algonquian place names abound in our region, especially in Maine and along the coastal regions where first contacts were made with Europeans and the native American population was historically more densely settled. Western New England, with its poor soils, cold winters, and uncomfortable proximity to the fierce Mohawk, was much more lightly settled at the time that Dutch and English settlers began moving up the river valleys and into the shadow of the Berkshire and Litchfield hills.
Still, as noted previously here, we have our share of native American names along the Housatonic (Wussi-adene-uk, or "Land Beyond the Mountains") and scattered about its tributaries. The first Mahican people who settled along the river shared a common language and were identified by their dwelling places. The names described the natural attributes, although English transcriptions and modern usage have all but obscured their origins and original meanings.
There was a significant settlement at the "Winds Mountain Place" or Wean-adn-auk in modern day New Milford. It endures today in the name of the regional Weantinoge Heritage Land Trust. The meaning of Weatogue Rd. in Salisbury has been lost, but it referred to the native Americans who settled in that place and must have described something about the local geography.
The largest tributaries of the Housatonic within the Litchfield Hills have names of native American origin as well. There are the Naugatuck ("lone tree by the fishing place"), Pomperaug (the name of a local sachem), Nonnewaug ( "fresh water fishing place") and Shepaug ("rocky water"), among others. American roots. Bantam in Litchfield is thought by William Bright in his 2004 book Native American Placenames of the United States to be a corruption of peäntam, literally "he prays", denoting a Christian Indian.
Knowing something of the origin and meaning of these familiar landmarks and the landscape of the Litchfield Hills helps to center me on this stony ground and in the nearly forgotten past , when names were like signposts in a personal geography, connecting and reconnecting to the land and its people.