Not many people know that the city of Marlborough was once known as “Whip Sufferage.” Or that the southern part of Shirley used to be called “Stow Leg.” Or that Plainville was nicknamed “Slackville.”
A closer look at Massachusetts maps reveals plenty of places with unusual names. There are ominous landmarks like Mount Misery in Lincoln and Bloody Bluff in Lexington. There are intriguing watering holes, such as Spy Pond in Arlington, Chicken Brook in Holliston, Laundry Brook in Newton, Sucker Brook and Pork Barrel Pond in Pepperell, and the curiously titled Long Sought For Pond in Westford.
The area is also home to fun-sounding places like Cheesecake Brook in Newton, and spiritual summits like Gospel Hill in Hudson.
Secretary of State William F. Galvin’s office maintains a lengthy list of names of neighborhoods and villages in Massachusetts, some of which are no longer in use.
Brian McNiff, a spokesman for Galvin’s office, said the state has maintained the list for many years. He said someone who reads a text from centuries ago may come across a place he or she has never heard of, and be inspired to track it down. The list, a repository for all place names of the past and present, has been “compiled for the benefit of the citizens,” said McNiff, and can serve as a handy reference tool.
The list includes some interesting locales, such as Honeypot in Norfolk, Darlings in Milford, Dog Corner in Needham, and Fiddler’s Green in Bolton. There are also darker, more mysterious monikers, such as Gravesville in Hudson, Hungry Plain in Woburn, Rockbottom in Stow, Piety Corner in Waltham, and Crooks Corner in Bellingham.
And who could forget Pill Hill in Brookline? The venerable enclave of homes overlooking Leverett Pond received its prescription-like nickname in the late 19th century.
“Pill Hill was named because lots of doctors lived there,” said Jean Innamorati, preservation planner for the town. “It was so close to the area hospitals. It was favorite neighborhood of the medical community.”
Down the southwest corner of Pill Hill is another neighborhood with its own quirky nickname. The community of modest homes between Cypress and Franklin streets became known as the Point, as an abbreviated form of its original moniker.
“In the past it has been referred to as Whiskey Point . . . because working-class people lived there,” said Innamorati. The nickname originated in the midst of the 19th century temperance movement, and the term was coined by “the more established people” in town — the same folks who likely said “no Irish need apply,” she said.
Area communities have plenty of hills, many of which are named after animals: Snake Meadow Hill in Westford. Turkey Hill in Arlington. Pigeon Hill in Waltham. Rabbit Hill in Plainville. Wild Cat Hill in Ashland. Rattlesnake Hill in Bolton.
Others are derived from Native American words. According to the US Geological Survey, Westford’s Kissacook Hill comes from a word meaning “steep slope,” and Punkatasset Hill in Concord is from one meaning “pondy places in a meadow.”
There are villages and neighborhoods named after other states and countries, such as Nebraska Plain in Natick, Little Canada in Lowell, French Hill in Marlborough, and Oregon, which is a village in Ashland.
William P. O’Donnell, register of deeds for Norfolk County, recalled that parts of the town where he lives, Norwood, were nicknamed after the immigrants who settled there: Cork City, Swedeville, Dublin.
“South Norwood is called the Flats, supposedly because there are a lot of triple-deckers, and when you looked at it from a higher point they all looked flat,” said O’Donnell. “That’s the lore, anyway.”
While some place names linger, others fade away with time. Such was the case with “Slackville,” a nickname given to Plainville long ago. A
1930 booklet published by the Plainville Board of Trade explained that in those early days, the community was called Slackville “not from any lack of energy, but from the fact that Mr. Benjamin Slack was one of the largest landowners at that time.”
Stow Leg appears on the state’s list as an “archaic name of Shirley.” It actually refers to the southern part of Shirley, which became part of the town in 1765, according to the Shirley Historical Society.
The state’s list describes Whippsufferage as an “archaic name of Marlborough.” This obscure 17th-century name appears sporadically in history texts and records, often under different spellings. The city’s website recalls it as “Whip Sufferage,” and says it was inspired by a Native American term. Continued...