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.