by Craig Walsh
Bocabec is a small unincorporated rural area occupying the southwest corner of Saint Patrick Parish in Charlotte County, New Brunswick, Canada. It is defined roughly by the watershed of the Bocabec River, and is bounded on the west by Chamcook, Saint Andrews Parish, and on the east by Digdeguash, Saint Patrick Parish.
This page summarizes a number of references, both scholarly and popular, on the origin of Bocabec’s name. Of particular interest is a sadly neglected 1913 paper by the ubiquitous William Francis Ganong that put forth a very plausible explanation connected with a small gorge-like feature on the Bocabec River.
2. Summary of Scholarly References
 Ganong (1896):
Bocabec.-From the Passamaquoddy Po-ka-besk’. In Boyd, 1763, as Boquabeck, and in 1764 (Mitchell’s Field Book) as Bookwebweck. It is perhaps the stream emptying Bocabec Lake, which Sullivan’s Maine, 1795, pp. 40-42, says is called by the Indians Makagambo. Ganong (1913). This is a more extensive paper that gives a complete account of the name and ends with this summary:
SUMMARY.- The word BOCABEC is of Micmac-Passamaquoddy origin, a corruption of POK-WE-PAK, involving the roots POK-WEO-PAK, meaning literally NARROWS-RUNS OUT-TIDAL, or the RIVER THAT RUNS OUT THROUGH TIDAL NARROWS, in description of the remarkable tidal Narrows near its outlet. Rayburn (1975):
Bocabec River: Flows SE into Passamaquoddy Bay. Derived from Passamaquoddy Pokabesk, meaning unknown. Boyd 1763 Boquabeck; Mitchel 1764 Bookwebweek; Owen 1770 Bocquobect; Sullivan 1795 possibly Makagambo; Land Petition 1820 Buckabeck. Hamilton (1978):
BOCABEC RIVER Credited by Ganong to the Passamaquoddy po-ka-besk, of unknown meaning. Hamilton (1996). This mainly discusses the “Woe onto you ye Bocabecers” curse, but also states:
The name is derived from the Passamaquoddy Pokabek, of unknown meaning.3. Traditional
It is a popular local legend that Bocabec means “crooked river” or “wandering river”. I have heard this from several people of various ages and it is even enshrined in the name of a church called the Crooked Creek Old Time Pentecostal Faith, which was built in the 1990s near the Bocabec United Church. However, the only written account of the “crooked river” explanation is an unreferenced sentence in a short newspaper article by Doris McCullough on the history of Bocabec. It appeared in the Saint Croix Courier on 29 May 1930 (McCullough, 1930):
Its [Bocabec’s] name was derived from an Indian word meaning “crooked” and was named thus by the Indians on account of the crooked and winding river that runs through the district.4. Discussion and Conclusion
I can verify that the "gorge" mentioned in Ganong (1913) does in fact exist, because I have walked through it many times at low tide. It is located on the stretch of river below the Bocabec Presbyterian Cemetery. One striking feature of the topography is the difference in slopes on either side of the river: the west side is quite steep and is defined by a ridge that culminates in the mountain behind Bocabec United Church. In contrast, the east side has a much gentler slope.
The crooked river explanation seems very odd because the Bocabec River is not particularly crooked or winding; in fact, it is unusually straight from its mouth to the Highway 127 bridge. It does have a winding section in Bocabec Marsh, and it does take a sharp westward turn at Highway 1, but these features are not unique to the Bocabec. The Digdeguash River, for example, has a long winding section through the Stillwater and Elmsville (Johnson Settlement) areas. Also, at the risk of relying too heavily on Ganong’s reputation, it seems very unlikely that he would have missed the crooked river explanation if it were true, especially considering that he talked personally to local Indians. Unless further evidence is found, it is best to regard "crooked river" as a local myth.
It appears from the Rayburn and Hamilton references that while Ganong’s 1896 Dictionary entry is well known, his more complete 1913 explanation has been forgotten. I have seen no discussions or critiques of Ganong’s explanation and I am not qualified myself to evaluate his linguistic analysis. The only possible objection I can think of is that the nearby Digdeguash River superficially also matches the description of a “river that runs out through narrows.” However, I have not personally examined the river and I do not know if it also has the unusual tidal features of the Bocabec.
Given his detailed, logical explanation as well as his general knowledge of the subject matter, it is probably safe to conclude that Ganong’s explanation is correct.
Full bibliographic citations are provided through links to the Bibliography and References page.