WABUN - Revisiting That Word

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org
Sat Sep 19 09:37:38 EDT 2015

Fellow etymologists,
So, is it just a coincidence that, on the Virginian, there is also a location named "Algonquin"? And, what about Matoaka?
Jeff Sanders
       From: NW Mailing List <nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org>
 To: N&W Mailing List <nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org> 
 Sent: Friday, September 18, 2015 5:29 PM
 Subject: WABUN - Revisiting That Word
Several years ago I raised the question of the origin of the name "Wabun." After a great deal of jumping through hoops, the conclusion of the groupies on this List was that no one really knew the etymology of the word, and no indication is found in the Roanoke County histories. 

Today I was doing some work on the Lackawanna Railroad's Utica Division, and stumbled across a hamlet named Sauquoit, NY. My French dictionary revealed that the town name has no French etymology, so I started looking for Indian language etymologies. Quite by chance, my eye fell up the following (unrelated) mention of "WABUN" in a work titled "Indian Place Names in America," by Sandy Nestor (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2003; ISBN 0-7864-1654-8) : 

"Wappinger Creek, Dutchess Co., NY. The creek was named for the Wappinger Indians, the majority of who[m] were killed in 1643-1645 during the Wappinger War. Their name was derived from WABUN and AHKI, meaning 'east land' .... " 

A perusal of the book (most of which can be read for free on Google Books) reveals that Ms. Nestor is neither a linguist nor a good historian, but is simply a compiler of quotations from other authors. The book is entirely devoid of any attribution for the information cited (other than a bibliography at the back,) and there is no attempt to critique or analyze the information from a linguistic, historical or any other standpoint. You can buy a used copy of the book on the Internet for $1.47, plus postage, which probably represents its true value. 

But, what may be the potential relation of this wisp of information on the word "WABUN" to the name as used in Roanoke County, Virginia? Well, the Wappinger Indians were of the Lenape Tribe of the Algonquin language group. In eastern Virginia, the Nanticoke, Powhatan and Pamlico Indians were also Algonquin (while the Nottoway, Meherrin and Tuscaroras were Siouan.) From what I gather, the Indians of central and western Virginia were mixed Algonquin and Souian. 

Perhaps, then the Virginia name WABUN is of Indian origin, and perhaps it is related to the Algonquin word "WABUN" which Ms. Nestor cites. (The American Indians did travel great distances, even hundreds of miles, mostly for the purpose of annihilating each other in tribal warfare.) But since the Indian languages of Virginia largely became extinct before they were recorded by linguists, we will probably never know the true answer to the origin of "WABUN." 

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-- abram burnett 
        turnip farmer 

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