I was sitting at a table out front of the Shinnecock Lobster Factory on the Montauk Highway, enjoying one of their lobster rolls—declared the best in the Hamptons by Yahoo—when I heard two customers at a nearby table talking about the fact that the Washington Redskins football team has agreed to change its name and could the Atlanta Braves and the Kansas City Chiefs be far behind?
“I wonder if villages in the Hamptons will change their names,” one of them said.
“Why do you say that?”
“Because about half of them are places the Indians named.”
It’s true. They include Montauk, Napeague, Amagansett, Acabonac, Pantigo, Sagaponack, Poxabogue, Mecox, Wickabogue, Mashashimuet, Noyac, Tuckahoe, Sebonac, Ponquogue, Quogue, Quiogue, Speonk, Cupsogue, Moriches and, of course, Shinnecock, where we were sitting.
Sometime, early on after the English settlers landed, they’d go on horseback to a new place in the Hamptons and ask the local Indians what they called these places. And these names above were some of the answers.
Lance Gumbs came over to our table, wanting to know how we enjoyed our lobster roll. He is one of the trustees on the Shinnecock Indian Nation tribal council. And he runs the Shinnecock Lobster Factory. I told him what I heard and asked him what he thought.
“Sounds like another Dan story,” he said. “Anyway, I don’t mind when they’re visiting one of our ‘stolen’ places.”
But what if everybody in Shinnecock agreed with Gumbs, but one did not. With just one offended, would we change all these names? I’ve heard people say that even if just one person said it was hurtful, we’d have to change them all. It’s just so easy to go over the top. For instance, in Southampton the school board changed the name of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, but then with the Italians in town up in arms, they agreed to officially declare that day to be Indigenous Peoples and Italian Heritage Day. But if you drive across the town line to East Hampton, it’s still Columbus Day. While in other school districts the day is just “no school.” Probably the least controversial of all.
Here are other recent developments. On the good side, Governor Cuomo has designated June 19 “Juneteenth,” celebrating the date that the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves.
On the more questionable side, the Shelter Island Board of Education voted to retire the school’s mascot, “Indians,” going forward. Is it on the floor of the school gym? It will be scrubbed off.
But now, just a few weeks later, a group of Shinnecocks who call themselves Warriors of the Sunrise are protesting on the Sunrise Highway in Hampton Bays to have their Shinnecock territory there be officially declared “Indian Territory.” They are proud to use the word “Indian.” It’s even part of their corporate seal.
But let’s just stretch this whole conversation a little further. Although half our communities have Indian names, almost all the other half have English names, so declared by the homesick early English settlers. If those Indian names have to be deep-sixed, why not just re-name them with the word “Hampton” in it to advance the honor of English settlers.
Hampton is, after all, about as English as it can get. And “The Hamptons” is today known worldwide as a chic American playground for the rich. New names replacing the Indian names could be Heather on the Hamptons, Middle Hampton, Little Hampton, Upper Hampton, Hampton by the Sea, Hampton Hedges, Hampton Point, the Hampton Flats—and an assortment of other names to remind us all of England, such as New Liverpool, New Manchester, New Bournemouth and even New Coventry.
Of course, there may be patriotic Americans around the country who would say they are insulted to find that we have given some places here in the United States English names after beating that country soundly in a war beginning in 1776.
“Nobody but an ugly American would think to keep a place name in honor of a defeated enemy.”
And no place in England is named to remind anyone of here.
And so after that, we’d have to fall back on the ultimate thing we do when we want to name something and can’t decide what wouldn’t offend anybody. Sell the naming rights to the highest bidder.
“I’m going west to visit my daughter in FedEx.”
“I’ve got to be in a courtroom in Walmart tomorrow morning.”
“I’m renting a place for August in the Microsofts.”
They all have a certain ring to them.