What’s in a name? Exploring the heritage of Casco Bay.

Evidence of early Native American life has been found throughout Casco Bay’s islands. Rich estuaries filled with fish, lobsters, and other sea life brought many tribes closer to the coast during the spring and summer months before retreating to an inland stronghold for the winter. The islands of Casco Bay provided a summer retreat—a place where tribe members could gather food and other necessities for the long Maine winters.

Maine is rich in Native American history and many of our landmarks still carry the original names given to them by members of the First Nations. Because we love learning about the history of our area, we dove into the archives of local experts like the Island Institute, the Maine Historical Society, and Bates College to research the original names of our beloved islands and boats.

Aucocisco—Migrating tribes often named things using unique wayfinding words—for example, the estuaries of Casco Bay are filled with a lot of bird life, so the Abenaki word “Aucocisco” meaning “a place of herons” is a fitting moniker for Casco Bay (and one of our boats). The bay was also called “Bahia de Cascos” or “Bay of Helmets” by Portuguese Explorer Estêvão Gomez who mapped the area in the early 1500s.

Bailey Island—The island was originally named “Newaggin” by local Abenaki tribes. The word means “swift current place,” a nod to the strong pull of the currents off the coast of Harpswell.

Chebeague Island—It may be hard to believe, but underground freshwater springs can be found running all over Chebeague Island. That’s probably why the Native Americans called the island “Chebeague” meaning “isle of many springs.”

Machigonne—A birds-eye view of Portland will show the land of the city jutting out into the sea. The Algonquian tribes who called the region home named it “Machigonne” meaning “great neck.”

Maquoit—The word “Maquoit” means “bear place” or “bear bay.” Maquoit Bay sits near the mouth of the Androscoggin and Kennebec Rivers, where salmon traditionally ran in great numbers, drawing bears to the region.

Wabanaki—In 1606, five of the region’s Native American tribes—the Abenaki, Penobscot, Mi’kmaq, Passamaquoddy, and Maliseet—united as the Wabanaki Confederacy. Members of the Wabanaki Confederacy lived all over Maine and Eastern Canada, which is the first place to see the sun rise each day. The word “Wabanaki” translates to “the people of the first light.” When we added the Wabanaki to our fleet back in 2014, students at Long Island Elementary school submitted the winning name for the vessel.

To learn more about this history of Casco Bay Lines, visit our history page.