An Etymology of “Ipswich”


Ipswich as Gepeswiz from the Domesday Book, 1086

The name of the town of Ipswich in Massachusetts—originally called Agawam—comes directly from the city of Ipswich in Suffolk England. While some second-order sources claim that the name was chosen because that is where many of its early citizens were from, there is no actual evidence of this.

John Speed, Ipswitche

Inset of Ipswiche from John Speed’s Suffolke, 1610

The official records of the Massachusetts Bay Colony for August 5th, 1634 make no mention of that supposed fact, stating tersely:

It is ordered, that Aggawam shalbe called Ipswitch.1

Then governor John Winthrop, who had sent his son to establish the town in 1633, noted in his journal entry for August 4th, 1634:

At the court, the new town at Agawam was named Ipswich, in acknowledgment of the great honor and kindness done to our people which took shipping there, etc.; and a day of thanksgiving appointed, a fortnight after, for the prosperous arrival of the others, etc.2

Ipswich is a truncated version of its original name, Gippeswick, though that spelling is a relatively modern standardization of a name that took many forms (as was usual for the period.) It was spelled alternatively as Gipewiz, Gepeswiz, or Gypeswiz in the Domesday Book commissioned by William the Conqueror and completed in 1086.3,4


“The half-hundred of Ipswich” from the Domesday Book, 1086


“The half-hundred of Ipswich” from the Domesday Book, 1086

There are two main theories on the origin of Gippeswick, both of which ultimately derive from an Anglo-Saxon personal name.

Indirect Adoption

The first is that Gippeswick took its name from the River Gipping concatenated with the Anglo-Saxon (Old English) word wic, meaning dwelling-place or abode.5 Wic is derived from the Latin vicus, for village, which was borrowed as *wik by Proto-Germanic, the unattested precursor to Anglo-Saxon. When applied to a town name it generally meant a trading place or port, which is what Gippeswick had become soon after its founding in the early 7th century.6

River Gipping takes its name directly from the village of Gipping near its headwaters.7 Gipping or Gypping is a concatenation of Gyppa, an Anglo-Saxon personal name and the suffix -ingas, meaning “the people of”. Who this person “Gyppa” might have been is lost to history, but it was perhaps the name of a Anglo-Saxon clan leader, someone who established a colony as part of the initial wave of Northern Germanic immigration in the wake of Rome’s abandonment of Britannia in the 5th century.8 In any case, it was someone of enough import that his descendants or followers maintained an identity through the name. The area became know as the land of “Gyppa-ingas” - “followers of Gyppa”.9

Direct Adoption

The second is that Gippeswick took the name of this putative Gyppa directly. Gyppa-wick would be the trading center of a man named Gyppa.10 Gipping would have taken it’s name more indirectly from Gyppa at some later period. This process would actually follow the ideas of Dodgson who put forth the theory that place names ending in -ingas are associated with the colonization of areas more distant (both physically and temporally) from those of the initial immigration.11

In either case, fifteen-hundred years later, a shadow of this man’s name remains as part of a town across an ocean in a land he could hardly have imagined.

An etymology of Ipswich

An Etymology of Ipswich

While all etymologies see Ipswich ultimately deriving its name from the Gipping River, earlier ideas for the derivation differ:

E.g., geap, an Old English word meaning “to wander” 12; or from the Gaelic word caep, cip, congate with the Latin caput, or head, source. The Gipping being the head of the river Orwell 13.


1 Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England. August 5th, 1633.

2 The Journal of John Winthrop, 1630-1649.

3 Electronic Edition of Domesday Book: Translation, Databases and Scholarly Commentary, 1086. UK Data Archive. 2007.

4 Domesday Book. UK National Archives. 2006.

5 Russo, Daniel G. Town origins and development in early England, c.400-950 A.D. 1998, p. 161.

6 Ibid, p. 142.

7 Laflin, S., Do -ingas place-names occur in pairs? English Place-Name Society Journal, 35 (2003), pp. 31–40.

8 Stenton, Frank M.; Parsons, Doris M. (ed.) Preparatory to Anglo-Saxon England: being the collected papers of Frank Merry Stenton. 1970.

9 Carver, M. O. H. The Age of Sutton Hoo: The Seventh Century in North-Western Europe. 1994, p. 54.

10 Mills, A. D. A Dictionary of British Place-Names. 2003.

11 Dodgson, J. M. The Significance of the Distribution of the English Place-Name in-ingas,-inga in South-east England. 1966.

12 Charnock, Richard S. Local Etymology: A Derivative Dictionary of Geographical Names. 1859.

13 White, Charles H.; Tymms, S. (ed.) The East Anglian; or, Notes and queries on subjects connected with the counties of Suffolk, Cambridge, Essex, and Norfolk, 1864.

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