Baby name story: Madawaska

"And Every Soul Was Saved" (1889) by Thomas M. M. Hemy
Painting by Thomas M. M. Hemy

Here’s an interesting coincidence: A few years ago, I added the above image (a portion of a painting by Englishman Thomas M. M. Hemy) to a blog post about a baby named after the ship she was born on. Recently, I discovered that the artist’s full name is Thomas Maria Madawaska Hemy, and that “Madawaska” refers to the name of the ship he was born on!

His parents, Henri and Margaret Hemy, moved the family to Australia temporarily in the 1850s. On their way south aboard the Madawaska in 1852, they welcomed their sixth son, Thomas. Curiously, he was born “near the Brazilian coast.” (During the age of sail, routes weren’t as direct as they are today because sailors needed to utilize the prevailing winds.)

The Madawaska was a barque built in Quebec in 1847. “Madawaska” is the original name of the upper St. John River Valley, on the Canada-U.S. border. Several places in that region retain the name, including a county in New Brunswick and a town in northern Maine.

The etymology of Madawaska is unknown, but one theory holds that it derives from an Algonquin word meaning “place of the porcupine.”

Thomas M. M. Hemy — whose older brothers Charles Napier Hemy and Bernard Benedict Hemy were also marine artists — passed his unique middle name down to at least one of his children, daughter Eve Madawaska Hemy (b. 1880).


Image: Portion of And Every Soul Was Saved (1889) by Thomas M. M. Hemy

2 thoughts on “Baby name story: Madawaska

  1. Huh, Algonquin! — my first guess upon seeing the name was Polish. “Place of the porcupine” is a fun meaning.

  2. Once I learned where the family was sailing, I assumed that the ship was based in Australia, and that the name was Australian in some way (maybe a place name, or a word from one of the indigenous languages). Totally incorrect, haha.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.