How Did Massachusetts Get Its Name? Discover the Origin and Meaning

Written by Kathryn Koehler
Updated: September 15, 2023
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The name Massachusetts is derived from the language of the indigenous Massachusett tribe, which was one of the Algonquian tribes on the Eastcoast. These tribes inhabited the region before European colonizers arrived. The word Massachusetts is thought to mean at or about the great hill or at the range of hills. So how did Massachusetts get its name? Continue reading to discover the origin and meaning of Massachusetts.

Map of where Algonquin language was spoken

Algonquian refers to the people and their language. This map shows where the language was spoken.

©Noahedits, CC BY-SA 4.0 – License

How Did Massachusetts Get Its Name?

The name Massachusetts was derived from the indigenous Massachusett tribe. These Algonquian-speaking Native American people lived in the region prior to colonization. The word “Massachusett” means at the great hill, and likely refers to the Blue Hills south of Boston.

The English settlers who arrived in the early 17th century adopted it as the name for the colony. The colony later became the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Over time, Massachusetts came to refer to the entire state. The specific individuals responsible for this naming decision are not well-documented, but it reflects the colonial practice of naming American colonies after Native American tribes or geographic features.

Closeup Selective Focus Of Massachusetts State On A Geographical And Political State Map Of The USA.

English settlers who arrived in the early 17th century adopted the name Massachusetts for the colony.


Colonial Towns

The Massachusetts Bay Colony, founded by Puritan settlers in 1628, played a significant role in shaping the history and identity of the region, and it eventually lent its name to the state of Massachusetts when it became one of the original thirteen American colonies. Before becoming the Massachusetts Bay Colony and later the state of Massachusetts, the area was known by a few different names. Plymouth, a town in Massachusetts, was originally called Patuxet by the indigenous Wampanoag people. When the Pilgrims colonized Plymouth in 1620, they essentially appropriated the existing Wampanoag village and renamed it Plymouth. Salem, located in present-day Essex County, was initially settled by English Puritans in 1626. When they arrived, it was called Naumkeag by the Naumkeag people who lived in the area. Depending upon the translation, Naumkeag means either the fishing place or eel-land.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © BestStockFoto/

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About the Author

Kathryn Koehler is a writer at A-Z-Animals where her focus is on unusual animals, places, and events. Kat has over 20 years of experience as a professional writer and educator. She holds a master's degree from Vanderbilt University. When she is not writing for A-Z-Animals, Kat enjoys puttering in her garden, baking deliciously healthful treats for her family, and playing with her two rescue mutts, Popcorn and Scooter. She resides in Tennessee.

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