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Ganong's 1913 Paper on the Meaning of Bocabec
 Posted 19 Nov 2000

    In 1913, William Franics Ganong proposed that the name "Bocabec" originated from a narrow gorge-like stretch of the river just below the Bocabec bridge. His explanation appeared as part of a paper entitled “An Organization of the Scientific Investigation of the Indian Place-nomenclature of the Maritime Provinces of Canada. (Third Paper)” which was printed in the Proceedings and Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, 3rd Series, Vol VII (1913), Sec II. pp 89-91. The paper was part of a multi-year series on place names.

    The Royal Society of Canada (off-site) has kindly granted permission to post an excerpt from the paper. It was scanned and OCR'd, and then manually proofread and corrected by myself (Craig Walsh). The original paper occasionally used upside-down curved circumflexes (basically, a "smile") and overbars to denote certain phonetic sounds. I cannot seem to reproduce these in my available typefaces, so I have used regular angular circumflexes (eg Â) for the "smiles", and double dots (eg Ë) for the overbars.

[page 81 (Introductory text from first page)]:
An Organization of the Scientific Investigation of the Indian Place-
nomenclature of the Maritime Provinces of Canada.

(Third Paper).

By W. F. GANONG, M.A., PH.D.

(Read by Title, May 28, 1913)

    This paper is identical in aim and method with its predecessors which were published in the two preceding volumes of these Transactions. In brief, I aim to apply the principles of exact scientific analysis to a subject which is at one- and the same time unusually interesting and remarkably encumbered with doubt and error. This comparative method, of which the details were explained in the introduction to the first paper, is elucidating remarkably the problems of the subject, as the present contribution will further illustrate.

    For convenience of reference I may add that the former papers thus treated the names Oromocto, Magaguadavic, Upsalquitch, Manan, Kepisiguit, Kouchibouguac, Anagance and Wagan, with a good many related words involving the same roots. In the present paper I have carried out still more fully the discussion of the different names having identical roots, thus giving prominence to the extinct names, which can be restored to great advantage for literary or other purposes. For this purpose, however, they must, for the most part, be shortened, softened, and familiarized; and such simplified forms I have tried to give where it seemed desirable.

    It only remains to add that in the matter of pronunciation, I have myself made use only of the ordinary English sounds of the letters, adopting this system in order to make the words more widely understood. Rand in his Reader and two Dictionaries uses exactly the same sounds and signs which are employed in English Dictionaries for explaining the pronunciation, excepting that in his Micmac-English Dictionary his editor uses the letters te to express the soft sound of ch (as in church). Gatschet and M. Chamberlain both use the standard alphabet of philologists, in which the vowels are sounded for the most part in the continental manner. All of the citations from Father Rasle are to be read as French.

[pages 82 to the top of 89 discuss the placename "Pokiok" and related names. The Bocabec section begins part way through page 82 as follows:]


LOCATION AND APPLICATION.- The name of a small River in southwestern New Brunswick, flowing southward into Passamaquoddy Bay; extended also to a Lake and a Harbour both lying to the westward, and to the small settlement at the mouth of the River. It is pronounced locally BÔC'-Â-BÊC, the BOC as in ROCK, and accented, the A as in CAB and the BEC as in BECK.

HISTORY OF THE WORD.-The earliest known use of the name occurs in a journal of an early settler, James Boyd, of 1763, in the form BOQUAKECK, which is obviously misprinted for BOQUABECK, and has possibly experienced editorial alteration (Kilby, Eastport and Passamaquoddy, 107). But it appears certainly as BOOKWEBWEEK, applied to the river, in Mitchel's Field Book of the survey of this region in 1764 (Collections of the New Brunswick Historical Society, II, 1904, 184), and on a map derived therefrom (these Transactions, VII, 1901, 229). It then occurs as BOCQUOBECT in Lieutenant Owen's Journal of his voyages around Passamaquoddy in 1770 (Collections above cited, II, 1899, 20); and on the remarkably fine survey map of Passamaquoddy, made for Des Barres Atlantic Neptune in 1772 by Thomas Wright it appears as BOCQUABECK (Ms still unpublished in the British Museum). A plan by Morris, of 1784, has BUCKIBACK (Ms. in the British Museum), and this is followed by Sproule's map of 1786 (these Transactions, VII, 1901, ii, 412), though in his map of 1798, Sproule adopted BOCKOBACK (op. cit. VII, 1901, ii, 254). The fine map of New Brunswick by Lockwood of 1826 has BUK A BUK, that of Saunders of 1842 has BUCOBE (with the obvious accidental omission of a terminal C); while Wilkinson's great map of 1859 has BOCOBEC. The Geological Survey map of 1880 introduced BOCABEC, which was followed by Loggie's map of 1885, and the influence of these two maps in conjunction with the clearness with which this spelling reflects the local pronounciation should make BOCABEC the standard, as it is the local, spelling of the name.

ANALYSIS OF THE WORD.-The Indians now, or formerly, living at Passamaquoddy recognize the word as belonging to their language, and give its form as PO-KA-BESK’, and BO-KA-BEKSQU, as I have obtained it from them in the forms of my notes, or BOC-E-BEC-SEQU, as it has been given me by Mrs. Wallace Brown of Calais, who knows them well. As to its meaning an Indian gave me NARROW AND LONG TIDE RUNNING UP, or, as Mrs. Brown obtained it, A SMALL STREAM OPENING OUT LARGER. In both explanations, it will be

[page 90]
noted, the idea of NARROW occurs. Comparing, now, this modern Indian form with the earlier forms from the first records above mentioned, it is evident that we have a phenomenon parallel with that displayed by the name POKIOK, viz., the earlier forms show a short O in the first syllable, and contain after the K a W sound which has been gradually lost in the evolution of the word under use by the whites, but which must have occurred in the aboriginal form of the name. Obviously in this word as in Pokiok, the sound has been dropped gradually because of the greater ease of pronunciation of the word without it; and similarly this new usage has influenced the pronunciation of the Indians, whose association with the whites in this region is very close. The sounds B and P are interchangeable, or rather, undifferentiated, in the language of these Indians, as, indeed, two of the Indian pronunciations above given illustrate, so that the first part of the word can be written equally well BOC-W or POK-W. The second vowel evidently lies somewhere between A. E, and 0, the nearest intermediate form being E. The similarity of these syllables to those in Pokiok earlier discussed (page 3) at once becomes evident, and raises the question whether this river presents any feature comparable with that which gave Pokiok its name. In fact it does, and a very striking one, as I know from my own personal observation. A mile or so up from its mouth, and a quarter of a mile below the bridge where the highway road crosses the river, the valley narrows to a small typical vertical-walled post-glacial gorge, through which at low tide, the clear green salt waters of the tidal basin above pour down in rapids through a natural sluice, the whole arrangement being one of the typical "Pokiok" type already explained (page 3). In this feature, accordingly, which is found in no other river of this region, and is therefore distinctive as well as striking, we seem without doubt to have the explanation of the first two syllables of the name, that is, as in Pokiok (page 3), PÔK-WË, the O being either crushed out as a superflous sound between this syllable and the next, though originally, I have no doubt, present, or else it is now with the preceding E which is thereby shortened. The first part of the word would therefore be PÔK-WËÖ, meaning, as in Pokiok, NARROWS RUNS OUT, or RUNS OUT THROUGH NARROWS. As to the terminal BEC, or PEK, that also seems equally plain. Its meaning is suggested by the word TIDE in the explanation on the preceding page. A root PAK, or PAAK, is an inseparable suffix occurring in numerous Micmac words connected with TIDES. Thus Rand gives for "The tide is coming in" WÊCHKWÔBAAK and for "the tide is very high" ÄOOSAMPAAK (English-Micmac Dictionary, 265): while, as will later be shown in this series, the important old Indian name AUCPAC (used for the Springhill region on the Saint John) means simply the HEAD OF TIDE. The word also is extended to large bodies of tidal water, or tidal lakes, as in the case of MALPEC, originally MACPAC, in Prince Edward Island, and WONPAC, the name for the lake-like Coles Harbour near Halifax. It is true this root as I cite it is Micmac, but as abundant evidence attests (e.g. Magaguadavic and Oromocto, earlier discussed in this series, with Passamaquoddy, Cobscook, and others later to appear), the place-names of the southern part of New Brunswick are prevailingly if not exclusively, Micmac; while moreover, as above shown, the roots of POKIOK are Micmac as well as Maliseet. Now a very peculiar fact about these Narrows of the Bocabec, and one which immediately strikes the attention, is this, that they occur in the tideway of the river, for at high water the rapid is completely buried by the tide which flows for nearly a mile above it. Accordingly it would seem that the PEK of our word must represent a form of PAK meaning TIDE or TIDAL which interpretation makes the word perfectly clear, that is, it would be in full PÔK-WËÔ-PÂK, meaning NARROWS-RUNS OUT-TIDALLY, or RUNS OUT THROUGH
[page 91]
TIDAL NARROWS. The final S sound in conjunction with the terminal K as given in the Indian forms above mentioned, is obviously simply an abbreviation of the common diminutive SIS, meaning LITTLE, with the locative K added, as is common with Indian place-names. If actually present it would make the word read PÔK-WËÔ-PÂK-SIS-K, making the word involve the meaning LITTLE. Since, however, no trace of this diminutive occurs in any of the several early forms of the name, taken independently from the Indians, it would seem to be modern, and we may eonveniently omit it in the adoption of a standard form and meaning of the name.

OTHER EXPLANATIONS OF THE WORD.-No explanation of the word whatever has heretofore been published so far as I can find, and the only other one I know consists in a suggestion, made to me some years age [sic: ago] by Mr. James Vroom, of St. Stephen, that it may be a corruption of the Micmac word BOKTÂBÄÄK' meaning GULF (Rand, English-Micmac Dictionary, 126). Nothing, however, except the somewhat distant resemblance between the words favors this suggestion, and it is not a serious competitor of the consistent explanation above given, as to the substantial correctness of which I have personally no question.

SUMMARY.-The word BOCABEC is of Micmac-Passamaquoddy origin, a corruption of PÔK-WË-PÂK, involving the roots PÔK-WËÔ-PÂK, 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.


The paper continues on for several pages discussing other place names related to Pokiok.

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