Pawtucket! Woonsocket!

Pawtucket Falls, circa 1815. (

Pawtucket Falls, circa 1815. (

With Pawtucket apparently about to lose its ball team, the city’s name is in the news, and it has caused me to marvel at the wonderful names cities in Rhode Island have. Pawtucket has a frankly puckish character. It’s nickname is The Bucket. Pawtucket is famous for its inclusion in limericks – “There once was a girl from Pawtucket, etc.” But there’s also Woonsocket. It does not have Pawtucket’s poetical jail bait but it is arguably even more romantic. It means “thunder mist” in the language of one of the three local native tribes, the Nipmucs, Wampanoags or Narragansetts. Woonsocket!

Providence is an unusually beautiful and evocative name, selected by founder Roger Williams to thank his maker for seeing him successfully to the place on which he would plant the colony where religious liberty was founded in America. The Ocean State, as it is affectionately known, eventually grew up to be the smallest state in the nation but has the nation’s biggest name: Rhode Island and Providence Plantations is its official moniker.

Other city and town names here are reasonably quotidian. Burrillville, Narragansett, Little Compton, Westerly and perhaps Tiverton stand out among Cranston, Johnston, Newport, Lincoln, Jamestown, Hopkinton,  Cumberland, Central Falls, Bristol, Barrington, Foster, Glocester, Greenwich, Exeter, Charlestown, Coventry, Middletown, Portsmouth, New Shoreham, Kingstown, Smithfield, Greenwich and Warwick. (This does not add up to 38 because I have omitted all Norths, Souths, Easts and Wests.)

No sexy names, please, we’re British! Well, we were, so we’re glad to have Pawtucket, Woonsocket and Providence, even though it is reasonable to worry that the capital city’s name, given its religious connotations, might constitute fightin’ words to some tribes elsewhere in the world.

Woonsocket, circa 1800. (

Woonsocket, circa 1800. (

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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2 Responses to Pawtucket! Woonsocket!

  1. Anonymous says:

    I never really gave a thought to where Woonsocket Senator Rhoda Perry’s “Thundermist Health Center” got its name. Now I know.


  2. Michael Tyrrell says:

    Oh Man!… How cool is that!?…
    “Thundermist, Rhode Island”…
    Don’t wait!…
    Here’s a marketing tool if ever there was one!..


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