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Introduction: Understanding the Importance of
Place Names 

My name is Izzy Feinfeld, and I'm currently a senior at Westwood High School. This website is the product of hours of research, meetings, and reading, and I'm so grateful that I'm able to share my findings with my community. 


While traveling in San Francisco this summer, I was struck by seemingly the most casual of things. A name, a geographic place name, of a peninsula in the Bay Area. 


This place was called Tiburon. It seems simple, just like every other word we see; a particular combination of letters; in this case, one that is three syllables and seven letters long. This name, though, is so much more than just a combination of letters. It holds a history that goes back hundreds, even thousands of years.


This place was not always called Tiburon. It was called another name, one that is now unknown due to centuries of historical erasure, by the Ohlone Tribe for thousands of years prior to its colonization by the Spanish. The name that exists in its place now has only been there for a short period of time, and its existence covered up an indigenous name that is now known by few who inhabit the land today. 


Tiburon is also derived from the Spanish word tiburón, which literally means shark. This was likely due to the prevalence of leopard sharks in the surrounding waters at the time of its colonization.  It is, however, commonly mispronounced by both locals and travelers, who say “tih-buhr-on” rather than “tee-boo-rohn” and place the emphasis on the first syllable rather than the last. Although this is not the same thing as erasing the name entirely, a common mispronunciation does seem demeaning for Spanish-speaking people.


This reminded me of a lesson I learned recently in my American History class, where we read about how once white settlers moved into California in the period of the Gold Rush, economic tiers became based more on race, with Mexican-Americans, who were excluded from many forms of employment, being second to the bottom on the “ social ladder” only to Native Americans, who were constantly being cruelly hunted and excluded by white settlers. The history of the place name Tiburon almost perfectly parallels the history of settlement in California. 


Most local residents just use this name conversationally, and don’t think critically about its history and meaning. Without acknowledging that history, constantly mispronouncing the name of a place, and using a colonial name, has a way of psychologically and linguistically erasing the history, and the continued survival, of the peoples who created those names. A seemingly simple act of saying a name can insidiously reinforce racial hierarchies that are detrimental to societies and peoples. To ignore the history of names is to ignore history itself. 


Although this story refers to far-away land on a different coast, it is still applicable to the land that we live on. In Westwood and many other towns, many place names and historical sites often go unnoticed by the general public. We don’t often dissect these names, and the time has come for us to understand their meanings and their importance. The study of place names and historical sites provides us with a stronger connection to, and a deeper understanding of, the towns and geographic areas where we live. 


I have brought the lesson of names that I learned in California back with me to the town that is now referred to as Westwood, in the state now known as Massachusetts (a name appropriated from the Massachusett Tribe) and have studied names and places for months to learn more about their histories. Due to many factors, the history of these names is much harder to access, but I, a Non-Native person with previously limited knowledge of local Native history, have done my best on this website to provide a history of Westwood’s Native names and Native historical sites. Some sites fall on town borders, which is due to the fact that town borders have changed over time, and were established by English settlers without regard to Native use of the land as well as Native settlement patterns. Native people in this area also moved throughout their lands in accordance with the seasons; in the summertime, they would move to land near Quincy and the Boston Harbor, where the land was more fertile, and in the winters, many bands (or multiple family groups who hunted and lived together) would move further inland to hunt prey. Their movement does not mean any of their settlements are "less permanent" in any way. As Thomas Green, the current Vice President of the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag said to me, it means that they lived by the philosophy of "owing" the land, where they moved with the seasons, and oftentimes would avoid certain areas where they had just stayed or farmed to let the land regrow.


This way of life, which is very sustainable, differs incredibly not just from the English settler way of life, but from the modern settler way of life as well. Today, most people do not move with the seasons; they stay in their homes all winter, waste a ton of energy, and actively contribute to climate change through everything from excessive sprinkler usage in the summers to pumping up the heat every day in the winter. In suburbia, the only thing one would consider to be "moving with the seasons" is people flying to resorts in Florida or the Caribbean during the wintertime, which, incidentally, also contributes to climate change through long, carbon-emitting flights. What I'm trying to get at is the fact that settler ways of life are often detrimental to the environment. Thus, the modern environmentalist movement, which has often been led by Native peoples and Native groups, should always consider Native ways of life in their ideas and policies.

I also want to acknowledge that the sites mentioned on this website were not the only Native settlements in the town we now call Westwood. I specifically focused on sites and place names because of the stories they tell, but the land tells a story too. The entire township of Westwood was once inhabited by the Massachusett Tribe, and while many of their settlements and important sites in this town have been covered up or destroyed by development, this land has been stewarded by their people for thousands of years. Despite many attempts at erasure through violent, historical, linguistic, and psychological means, the Massachusett Tribe has survived and its members continue to honor the traditions of their ancestors. Their website is, and it contains much more historical information than my own website. I would highly recommend checking out their website and reading all the information on it because you will learn a lot about local history and the current structure and culture of the Tribe.

History in Progress


Although the information that is presented on this website has been researched and heavily fact-checked by several historians, history itself is not objective, and therefore this site is subject to change indefinitely. Future discoveries with more information on Native Sites will only add to this website's accuracy in its portrayal of pre-colonial life in the area we now refer to as the town of Westwood. 

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