Home, Sweet Home

I’m sure I will want to more fully blog New York Review Books’ wonderful reprint of George R. Stewart’s Names on the Land, which I so happily received via LibraryThing‘s Early Reviewer program—I have a bit of a mini-review up on LT but definitely want to expand on it—but today I thought I would give everyone a taste of Stewart’s charm through his mention of my hometown. I had been hoping Norwalk, CT would merit an etymology. After all, despite its current lack of fame, it was incorporated in 1648, making it older than many of the surrounding towns.

Stewart gives the history of the name thus:

In Connecticut, as in Plymouth, one town kept an Indian name, by a strange manner. First it was called by such a name as Naramake, and on English tongues this came to be Norwaak, and soon was spelled Norwalk. Then men thought it wholly English, as if it might be a name like Norwich. Finally, someone made up a story to explain the name, saying that it was because the first comers had bought of the Indians as much land as would lie within one day’s “north-walk” from the Sound.

I can well attest that to this day people assume it an English import; just the other week when I told a friend I was reading this book he asked me where Norwalk was in England! Naramake remains the name of a neighborhood and elementary school. Unfortunately, it appears the original (probably Algonquin) meaning of the name has been lost.

(The various other Norwalks in the US, including Norwalk, OH and Norwalk, CA, were named after the original city in Connecticut. Norwalk, OH was, in fact, founded as the resettlement of many people from Norwalk, CT who had been displaced by a fire.)

2 comments to Home, Sweet Home

  • Alison

    I forgot to mention this — but my 3rd grade teacher’s version of the name Norwalk was that it was the “English version of Naramake indians” so it derived from the “Norwakee indians.” Also very important — the Norwalk origins of the song ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy.’

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