Where Did Martha's Vineyard Get Its Name?

Jen Hawkins O'Hanlon, REALTOR®


Martha's Vineyard, an enchanting island off the coast of Massachusetts, has captured the imagination of visitors for centuries. With its picturesque landscapes and charming towns, this idyllic destination bears a name that piques curiosity. In this blog post, we delve into the captivating history of how Martha's Vineyard acquired its name, a tale that continues to intrigue and fascinate.

The Search for Meaning: The origin of the name "Martha's Vineyard" is a subject of much speculation and debate among historians and locals alike. While several theories have been proposed, the exact truth remains elusive. Let us explore some of the most prominent theories surrounding the island's naming.

Theory 1: Bartholomew Gosnold's Tribute to Martha: One theory suggests that the name "Martha's Vineyard" was bestowed by English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold, who arrived on the island in 1602. According to this theory, Gosnold named the island after his daughter, Martha, as a tribute to her. The term "vineyard" was likely used due to the abundance of wild grapevines that he encountered on the island during his exploration.

Theory 2: Naming the Island after Gosnold's Mother: Another theory proposes that Martha's Vineyard was named in honor of Bartholomew Gosnold's mother, whose name might have been Martha. This theory suggests that Gosnold chose to name the island after his mother as a way to pay homage to her.

Theory 3: Misinterpretation of a Wampanoag Word: Some researchers speculate that the name "Martha's Vineyard" may have originated from a misinterpretation of a Wampanoag  word. The Wampanoag people, the native inhabitants of the region, referred to the island as "Noepe" or "Noumpé," meaning "land amid the streams." It is possible that early English settlers misheard or misunderstood the native term, leading to the eventual adoption of "Martha's Vineyard."

The term "vineyard" in the name is somewhat misleading since the island does not have vast vineyards. However, it is believed that the name was inspired by the presence of wild grapes that grew abundantly on the island, giving it a vineyard-like appearance. And, in more recent times, there have been some small-scale attempts at viticulture on the island. Checama Vineyards (pictured below) operated for 37 years, from 1971-2008.

Exploring Martha's Vineyard Today: While the name's origin may be shrouded in mystery, Martha's Vineyard today offers a wealth of experiences for visitors. Immerse yourself in the island's stunning beaches, charming villages, and vibrant cultural events. Engage in outdoor activities such as cycling, kayaking, or simply basking in the island's serene atmosphere.

Martha's Vineyard's name continues to captivate the imagination, evoking a sense of wonder and curiosity. Whether named after Bartholomew Gosnold's daughter, his mother, or derived from a misinterpretation of a native word, the name "Martha's Vineyard" has become an integral part of the island's heritage. As visitors explore this enchanting destination, they are reminded of the timeless allure and mystery that permeate Martha's Vineyard, leaving an indelible impression for years to come.


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