Chapter 3: Animals and Insects

by Dr. Frank Waabu O'Brien, Aquidneck Indian Council

This short treatise stems from the research of the Massachusett-Narragansett Revival Program, a project for the reconstruction of the extinct American Indian languages of southeastern New England. Our intention is to make these works available to a wide audience.

The present paper shows translations for about 100 names for animals [1] and insects taken from the extinct American Indian Algonquian languages of southeastern New England, Narragansett and Massachusett. Not all existing species were recorded by the missionaries of Colonial New England. Occasionally vocabulary words are borrowed from the Abenaki language, Pequot, Ojibway, or Wampano (Iron Thunderhorse, 2000) when no extant terms were discovered. Reconstruction of such words in Massachsuett-Narraganset may be modeled on these terms from similar Algonquian languages. References are given below. One important document (Trumbulls Natick Dictionary) is available on the Internet. The Goddard & Bragdon work is important for linguistic theory.

In the Algonquian languages, living organisms are named for their outstanding characteristics (color, sound, habit &c) such as tummnk = beaver (he cuts trees), a well known characteristic of these amphibious animals. Sometimes the native peoples coined new words for new animals introduced by Awaunagassuck (English strangers). We note that five words in the Vocabulary were Americanized from the Algonquian languages (opossum, muskrat, moose, skunk and squaw).

The vocabulary listing is presented alphabetically as a table of three columns. On the left is the English language term being translated, as translated in the middle column (with language/dialect identified except for Massachusett dialects), and any useful comments on the right side (including etymology). The main contributing language is Massachusett [2] (Eliot, Cotton and Trumbull references). Reconstructed refers to my own creation. The abbreviation Narr. refers to the Narragansett language as recorded by Roger Williams (1643). Pronunciation of words is not attempted owing to the scanty knowledge of this language. For technical guidelines, see Goddard & Bragdon (1988). Strong Woman and Moondancer (1998) provide a long guide to interpretation of vowel sounds and consonant-vowel clusters along with the special diacritical symbols seen in the vocabulary.

Animals and Insects

ANIMALS (owaasineg) & INSECTS
(cats, cattle, pigs, hogs, goats, horses, and sheep are European imports)

(Narr. = Narragansett)
(∞ = oo as in food)


animal in general, beast, living creatures

· oâos, ôâos

· oáus

· howass

· -as, -awus = “animal” are common roots in composition

· -ahsim, -oshim & –sem , other root evidently used for quadrupeds

animal skin

· oskún (undressed)

· ohk∞n (dressed)

root is “raw”; cf. “bone”



“he seizes”

antler (see “horn”)



mattappasquas (or) matabpusques

“animal that sits (hangs)”


· mosq[3]

· paukúnawaw (Narr.)


· awausseus (Pequot)


· konooh (Pequot)

· black female bear?, “the licker”; a clan animal of Wampanoag

· related to “goes in the dark or night”

· “a wild beast”



beast (including any domesticated animal)

· puppinashim

· penashìm (Narr.)

related to verb prefix pŭ- meaning   “motion all about” and -ashim-   = “animal”



· tummûnk, tummòck  (Narr.)

· nóosup (Narr.)

· súmhup (Narr.)

· amisque

· tummûnk & tummòck is a live adult (“he cuts trees”)

· nóosup is male ?

· súmhup   is female ?

· amisque   is generic name “water   beast”



· aohkeom∞s

· ohkeomm∞se

“a needle, a pin, stinger”

bobcat (see “wildcat”)





see “animal skin”


nompashim netas

“4-legged domesticated male animal”


mĕmĕngwa[4] (Ojibway)

related to "moving all about"

cat (house, european)


imitative sound of paws + “little”



“a creeper, crawler”?

cattle (plural)

Netasûog (Narr.)

“house-fed animals” (i.e. do not find own food); cf. “bull” & “cow”


monocoraunganish (Wampano)


chipmunk (or the ground or stripped squirrel)


“little colored squirrel”; from “he seizes”

claw (see “hoof”)




· plural

· singular


· côwsnuck (Narr.)

· ushquashimwe netas


· English loan word

· “domesticated animal”


· mukquoshimwes

· muchquashimwese (Narr.)

"little wolf"; reconstructed; cf. “wolf” & Endnote on “small”


chansomps (Wampano)

See “grasshopper”


· ahtuk

· attuck (Narr.)

Possibly “fallow deer” or “white-tailed deer”; words derived from “at the tree”? “wet nose”?; a clan animal of Wampanoag

deer (hart, young hart, stag, roe)

eiyomp (Narr.)

related to “male”


deer, doe

aunàn & quunêke (Narr.)

related to “communicates (where parents are)”?

deer, fawn

moósquin (Narr.)

related to “smooth” , “female”

deer, great buck

paucottaúwat (Narr.)

related to “moves” and “turns” (the deer’s habit: move & turn)

deer, great buck

kehteiyomp (Narr.)

“great male”

deer, little young doe

qunnequàwese ( Narr.)

  “communicates (where parents are)”?; see Endnote on “small”


deer, male

nóonatch   (Narr.)

“wet nose” or “doe with a fawn” ?

deer, old (hart)


“old deer”

deer, tribute skin

púmpon (Narr.)

given to sachem when deer is killed in water of sachem’s land

deer, whole, part

· missêsu (Narr.)

· poskáttuck (Narr.)

· “whole thing (deer)”

· “half of a   deer”

deer, young small buck

wawwúnnes (Narr.)

related to “small”, “turning”


muchawas (Wampano)




“takes hold by mouth” or “howls”


odamôganak (Wampano)

plural ?


wôboz (Wampano)

Rare if ever a reference to this animal in woods of RI or MA.

female animal (4-legs)

squáshim (Narr.)

from “female” and “animal”

fire fly

routawas (Wampano)



pékané (Abenaki)

looks like a squirrel and related to weasels



cf. “moth”


· m∞súhq

· oochaus

· black fly ?, “black biter?”

· “animal moving all about”

fox (in general)

· wonkis   (or) wonkŭssis

· a'waumps, a'wumps (Pequot)

· wonkqussissemes

· from “he doubles back” (applied to warriors’ tactics such as Pometacomet (King Philip) of Wampanoag)


· “little fox “ (see endnote on diminutive suffix form -emes)


fox, black


Reconstructed ("black 4-legged animal")

fox, gray

péquawus (Narr.)

“gray” & “animal”

fox, red

mishquáshim (Narr.)

“red four-legged animal”

gnat, mosquito?


“a hard-biting fly”

goats (plural)

gôatesuck (Narr.)

English loan word

grasshopper, locust


From quooshau = "he jumps"? ; see “cricket”

hair or fur of animals



inanimate plural noun

hog (see "swine")



hoof, nail, claw


“A sharp point”; inanimate noun

horn, antler


“round, curved”; inanimate noun


· horsesog

· nahnaiyeumŏaodt

· naynayoûmewot (Narr.)

· English loan word (plural)

· “creature that carries” with onomatopoetic frequentative

· sound of horse—naynay + “to carry”.


arrumosis (Wampano)



nepukskuks (Wampano)



okwa (Wampano)


male animal (4-legs)

· nomposhim

· enewáshim (Narr.)

from “male” and “animal” (cf. “bull”)

marrow of bone





“white” ?; larger than the related weasel



Root for “fish” (-amag)?



“eats plenty”



moòs (Narr.)

related to “trims, cuts smooth”; also called “great ox, ” red deer” or “fallow deer”

mosquito (see "gnat")





“animal constantly waiting” or   “constantly changes direction”


mountain lion


“long tail”



related to “sitting, being in place”? (cf. “rat”)



“red animal”

nail (see “hoof”)





“white animal”


· ox

· anakausŭ puppinashim

· English loan word

· “laboring animal”

panther ?


“long tail”; word also applies to mountain lion

pig (plural)

pígsuck (Narr.)

English loan word


· qâk (Ojibway)

· kôgwa (Wampano)

· said "kahk" (?)


rabbit (hare, “conie”)

· môhtukquás

· wuhtokquas

· waûtuckques (Narr.)

· “wet nose”

· ”he eats young plant stems”?

· conie, “he ducks between”?


aûsup (Narr.)

related to “holds with hands” or “face washer”



“large mouse”

sheep (plural)


English loan word

sinew (leather string)

· mutchoh (one piece )

· mutchohtash (many pieces)

inanimate noun as seen by suffix plural marker –ash with “accommodating t” preceding



“the sprayer” (still stinks!)



related to “raw, slimy”


· ask∞k

· askùg (Narr.)

“snake” or serpent in general, related to “raw, slimy”

style='font-family:"Palatino Linotype";mso-bidi-font-family: snake , black snake[7]

· m∞askug

· móaskug (Narr.)

“black” & “ snake”

snake, garter

skuksiz   (Wampano)

“snake” & “little”

snake, rattlesnake

· sésekq

· sések (Narr.)

s-s-k sound of snake’s tail,

animal revered by warriors



“net maker”

spider web


same word for “fishing net”, “hemp”


mishánneke (Narr.)

“great squirrel” (cf. “chipmunk”)

swine (plural)

· hógsuck (Narr.)

· pígsuck (Narr.)


English loan words

tail (of animal)

· wussŭkquin

· wussúkqun (Narr.)

"his tail: meaning "long thing at end" or "hook, curve at end"

venison, fat, flesh, meat


“flesh” of oâos


amoe (Wampano)



a’mucksh (Pequot)

See “muskrat”

wildcat, bobcat, mountain lion, etc.

· pussoúgh

· pussoúgh (Narr.)

Imitative hissing sound


· mukquoshim

· muchquashim (Narr.)

· mogkeoáas

· mucks (Pequot)

· natóqus (Narr.)

· "animal that   eats live flesh”; a clan animal of Wampanoag

· "eats live flesh”;

· great (large) animal

· great (large) animal

· “He feeds on deer”?

wolf[8], black

moattôqus (Narr.)

“[deer eating?] black animal”; seen as a sacred animal

woodchuck, groundhog

ockgutchaun (Narr.)

“he goes under roots, he burrows”?


· ∞hg

· oohke

related to “raw, slimy”

Note: Names for animals and insects are “animate nouns” (they are alive and move). Their parts or byproducts are inanimate nouns.

1. In Massachusett, animate noun plural form is given by the rule: Noun + og.   The og said like -ak or -ock (“clock”); e.g., “dog” = anum + wog = anumwog (a “w” glide is inserted between final consonant stem and initial vowel plural marker.) Also see footnote for “snake, black”.

2. In Narragansett, animate noun plural typically written as Noun + ock (with glides)

3. To say “small” we add suffix -es or -s (“small”) or -emes (“smaller”)

·  -ese (“small”) is sometimes seen in Narragansett

[1] Taken broadly to include all land animals (excluding birds).   Although insects technically are animals, they are distinguished for convenience.

[2] John Eliot translated the entire Bible into Natick dialect of the Massachusett (or Wampanoag) language.

[3] This term and the next also used to mean “Great Bear constellation” (Roger William, 1643)

[4] The repetition of the first syllable mĕ is a common feature in the Algonquian Indian languages, referred to as frequentative or reduplication.   It is a way of describing or emphasizing something that is going on repeatedly or habitually.  For example, momonchu (“he is always on the move”; “he is always moving”). Popowuttáhig (“drum”) is another example—emphasizing the repetition of the popow sound of a drum. Look for other examples of frequentative nouns in Vocabulary (cat, mole, horse, moth, mountain lion, rabbit, spider (?))

[5] Some meanings of “deer” include any animal of the family of hoofed, cud-chewing animals such as moose, and other animals not thought to be of this region (caribou, reindeer, etc.). A roe is a non-American small, swift deer. A hart is a male deer, esp. red in color after the 5th year life of when the crown antlers are formed (also “stag”). A buck is male, and doe is female; fawn is under a year old.

[6] Different regional Algonquian   dialects for word "dog” (Roger Williams, 1643)—

Anùm, Cowweset dialect

Ayím, Narraganset dialect

Arúm, Qunnippiuck (Wampano) dialect        

Alúm, Neepmuck dialect

Those tribes saying anùm called N-dialect by linguists. Those tribes saying ayìm called Y-dialect speakers. Those tribes saying arúm called R-dialect (e.g., Wampano) speakers, and those tribes saying alúm called L-dialect speakers. Perhaps the Indian dog was a hybrid, domesticated wolf.   Dogs were a food source in times of scarcity, and they were sacrificed by some tribes in ceremonies.

[7] “Black” + “snake” . Plural, moaskùgog. This word shows the process (called polysynthesis) of combining two or more words into one word with the individuals words becoming contracted.   Moaskug comes from “he is black” (mowêsu) + “snake” (askùg). The word mowêsu became contracted or shortened to mo. Thus, to construct a word “red snake”, we take animate form for “red” (mishquêsu) + snake, or mishquáskug. The most difficult aspect of analyzing compound words is identifying the original contracted root words; sometimes but a single letter represents   the original root (Mayhew, 1722).

[8] One European observer [(Josselyn, John (1674, 1675)] remarked that there were two types of wolves: one with a rounded ball-foot and one with a flat foot (“deer wolf” because they preyed on the deer). Moattôqus (and noatôqus (is this a misprint?)—maybe “he feeds on deer") may be the “deer wolf” because we seem to see the root for deer. The final -us may be a formative related to the Natick dialect word ôâas meaning “animal” or “animate being”

Go on to Chapter 4: Birds and Fowl
Go back to the Algonquian Language Revival Table of Contents

Contact the author
Learn about the New England Algonquian languages Wampanoag and Narragansett
Visit the index of Eastern Woodlands Indians

Read our article submission guidelines

Would you like to help support our organization's work with endangered American Indian languages?