I love place names that just roll off your tongue like “Woonsocket.” Every time I drove to Rhode Island I found myself repeating “Woonsocket” over and over again. Then I moved on to the other “–ets” like Pawtucket, Muskeget, Nantucket, Narragansett…
Wait a minute! What does this “–et” mean that is spread across the landscape in New England?
Patterns in place names should cause us to stop and ask questions about the indigenous language all around us. I searched for some meaning to the “–et” and found that it seems to generally mean “place of.”
The indigenous place names of New Zealand don’t roll off your tongue as much as sound like the even beat of a drum: Whangarai (fang gore I), Whanganui (fang ga new ee), Tauranga (tow rung gah). Te Puke (Tee Pook Ee). Whakatane (Fahk A Tahn Ee). You get the idea. They sound like a Maori war dance when you read them off. I have a New Zealand friend who lived in the inner city of a U.S. city and would just start saying New Zealand place names when she felt threatened. She figured it sounded like she was putting curses on people. I did find one New Zealand place name that did seem to roll off your tongue and on for a distance: Wainuiomata (Wah New Ee Oh Maht A)–Wainui for short.
And then there are the place names that are totally indecipherable. At the top of my list if Natchitoches, Louisiana which is not far from Nagadoches, TX. Natchitoches (nack a dish) took some time for me to learn to pronounce as well as spell (spelling not being one of my strengths). Nagodoches (nack a doe chez) makes much more sense to my phonetic approach to spelling. Both of these are not far from Baton Rouge (Bah’ toh RRRooozh).