A decade ago I posted about the local place name Norwottuck (“Or something like that”); now I’ve come across what seems to be a knowledgeable discussion in Alice Nash’s “Quanquan’s Mortgage of 1663” in Marla R. Miller (ed.), Cultivating a Past: Essays on the History of Hadley, Massachusetts. On p. 29 Nash says it’s properly Nolwottog, with the accent on the second syllable, and on p. 31 she writes:
Nolwottog is also known in the literature as Norwottock and Nonotuck, with orthographic variations on the three names. The 1653 deed calls the place Nonotuck. This is not a misspelling. The Algonkian languages spoken by indigenous peoples in New England have three major forms, or reflexes. The most obvious difference to the nonspecialist is that one uses n where the others use l or r. John Eliot, the Protestant missionary, wrote, “We in [eastern] Massachusetts pronounce the N; the Nipmuck Indians pronounce L; and the Northern Indians pronounce R.” Similarly, the endings –ogg or –og, –ock, and –uck are all variants of a locative ending, indicating the word refers to a place. When documents were written by Englishmen who knew the land and its people well, such as John Pynchon and the fur traders who worked for him, they wrote Nolwottogg, because that was what they heard. Nonotuck, the n form used in the 1653 deed, is an historical remnant, reflecting a kind of internal colonialism. When Englishmen such as John Pynchon and his father, William, first began to buy inland tracts in the Connecticut River Valley, they often hired the services of Native men from eastern Massachusetts as interpreters and to aid in the negotiations. The earliest interpreter, a Wampanoag man named William Ahhaton, understood the dialect spoken by the people of Nolwottog, but he pronounced their name as Nonotuck. The name was written as Ahhaton pronounced it. Although John Pynchon later recorded the name as Nolwottog, the alternate spelling persists to this day. Ironically, the Nolwottog have been better known by what others called them than by what they called themselves.
We discussed “Wampanoag” in 2005.