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Dartmouth College Library Bulletin

Journey's End


'Why is Mount Cube called Mount Cube?'

This question from a student has led to a very diverting and pleasant look at the toponomy of this region. In looking at a map, several broad propositions can be made. First, settlements and towns are often named as a result of European exploration and settlement in the area. A close examination of many of these names gives an indication of the original home of these explorers and settlers and, in addition, gives some sense of the direction of expansion. Lebanon, Enfield, Hanover, and Lyme all reflect English exploration and provide a pointer to the Connecticut River as the means of travel. Each of these towns in New Hampshire was named for a settlement in Connecticut, often with a brief stopover in Massachusetts, and all are a clear indication of the use of the river as the route north. Towns and geographic locations named after European cities and towns or after individuals are nearly always, in relative terms, late. They begin to appear in the seventeenth century and are often fixed when a map is drawn and published.[1]

Second, names of geographic features such as rivers and lakes are many times names given by Native Americans and retained, often with different, and unreliable, transcriptions of the native names. The Connecticut River, for example, has been spelled Quinnehtukguet, Quonehtacut, Counitegou, and Connittecock at various times, but it is generally accepted that it is a Mohecan word meaning 'long river.' The Ammonoosuc River is an Abnaki word for 'fish place,' a very apt designation even today, as this writer can attest. Mascoma, as in the river and lake, is an Abnaki word meaning 'much grass' or 'salmon fishing' or 'red rocks.'

Third, names of regions or large areas in New Hampshire are a mix of native and European names. Coos, the northernmost county in the state, is a Pennacook word meaning 'pine tree.' The name is sometimes seen with a diacritic, as in Co�s, but this is no longer the accepted form. Erving's Grant, on the other hand, is one of the few unincorporated areas of the state. It is named for Captain William Erving of Boston, who was granted the 3500 acres as a reward for his services in the French and Indian War.

Native American toponony tends to be descriptive or a means of identification of a place while the European settlers often used place names to memorialize an individual. This bifurcation of intent holds true through the nineteenth century. Mount Chocorua is named for an early eighteenth-century tribal leader who is purported to have died on the mountain. This name, however, was not given to the mountain by Native Americans, but was assigned later when all peaks needed to be named. Moosilauke, on the other hand, is an Abnaki word meaning, perhaps, a 'bald place.' Other spellings of the name include Mooshillock, Mooselock, Mooshelock, and Mooseelauke. At the same time, most mountains in New Hampshire are named for United States presidents or other notables.

The nomenclature of the state's topography was firmly fixed by the publication of Charles Hitchcock's Geology of New Hampshire.[2] This monumental work not only charted and delineated the geology of the state, but also, in both the text and atlas, proposed, modified, and fixed names for most of the geographical features of the state. Hitchcock, who was a professor of geology at Dartmouth at the time of the preparation of the report, deserves to be credited with setting the geographic place names of the state.

Other place names reflect early settlers or individuals remembered for their work in the area. Pinkham Notch is named for Joseph Pinkham, who settled in the area in 1789 and began a road through the notch. After Joseph's death, his son Daniel completed the road in 1824. Tuckerman's Ravine honors the work of Amherst College botanist Edward Tuckerman, whose two-decade-long effort, beginning in 1837, to record the flora of the region resulted in a great expansion of our knowledge of the White Mountains. His name was given to the ravine in 1848 and first appears on maps in 1858. While it may appear that the naming of the land is chaotic and determined by local interests and events, there is an organized effort to arbitrate and normalize names and spellings. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names, established by Congress in 1890, is charged with standardizing place names within the United States.[3] Much of the work of the board and its decisions is reflected in the Geographic Names Information System which is now available as a very easy to use computer file in the Map Room of Baker Library.[4] While this file does not provide the history of a place name, it remains the authoritative source for names, spellings, and locations.

Pursuing the history of naming places can be delightful and instructive. A few sources for this pursuit are:

Kelsie B. Harder. Illustrated Dictionary of Place Names, United States and Canada. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., 1976.

John Charles Huden. Indian Place Names of New England. Contributions from the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, vol. 18. New York: Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, 1962.

Elmer Munson Hunt. 'The Origin of Some New Hampshire Mountain Names,' Historical New Hampshire, 9:1 (April 1955): 1-28.

Robert Hixon Julyan and Mary Julyan. Place Names of the White Mountains. Hanover: University Press of New England, 1993.

John T. B. Mudge. The White Mountains: Names, Places & Legends. Etna, N. H.: Durand Press, 1992.

George Rippey Stewart. American Place-Names; a Concise and Selective Dictionary for the Continental United States of America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970.

The answer to the original question-'Why is Mount Cube called Mount Cube?'-is quite simple. It is a local variation of the original name, Mount Cuba, given in 1805 and so named on many early maps. But none of the sources cited above gives the derivation of No Name Brook in the town of Unity.

P. N. C.

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[1] The best and most delightful introduction to place names and naming is George Rippey Stewart, Names on the Land; a Historical Account of Place-Naming in the United States, 3d ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967).

[2] New Hampshire, Geological Survey, 1868-1878, The Geology of New Hampshire, a Report Comprising the Results of Explorations Ordered by the Legislature, by C. H. Hitchcock and J. H. Huntington, 5 parts in 3 vols. and atlas (Concord: E. A. Jenks, 1874-1878).

[3] See Donald Orth, Principles, Policies, and Procedures: Domestic Geographic Names (Reston: U.S. Board on Geographic Names, 1988), for a brief history of the board and a statement on the activites and authority of the organization. Decisions of the board can be found in United States, Board on Geographic Names, Decisions on Geographic Names in the United States (Washington: The Board, 1890- ).

[4] GNIS[computer file]: Geographic Names Information System, September 1993 (Reston: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, National Mapping Division, 1993).