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Image Regional Origins: Names on the New Land

The same pattern of regional origins also appeared in English place names that were given to the new settlements of Massachusetts. The first counties in the Bay Colony were called Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk and Middlesex. Three out of four received East Anglian names.

Town names showed a similar tendency. A few Massachusetts communities were named after natural features (Marblehead, Watertown). Others expressed the social ideals of their founders. Salem took its name from the Hebrew word for peace—Shalom. The first town in the interior was named Concord. The town of Dedham wanted to call itself Contentment, but that idea caused such rancor in the General Court that it had to be given up. Only one town in Massachusetts (Charlestown) was named for any member of the royal family during the first generation—a striking exception to the monarchical rule in most British colonies


throughout the world, from the sixteenth to the twentieth century.1

Every other Massachusetts town founded before 1660 was named after an English community. Of thirty-five such names, at least eighteen (57%) were drawn from East Anglia and twenty-two (63%) from seven eastern counties. Most were named after English towns within sixty miles of the village of Haverhill.2

As the Puritans moved beyond the borders of New England to other colonies, their place names continued to come from the east of England. When they settled Long Island, they named their county Suffolk. In the Connecticut Valley, their first county was called Hartford. When they founded a colony in New Jersey, the most important town was called the New Ark of the Covenant (now the modern city of Newark) and the county was named Essex. In general, the proportion of eastern and East Anglian place names in Massachusetts and its affiliated colonies was 60 percent—exactly the same as in genealogies and ship lists.3

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