I was shocked to realize that I had not included the etymology for raccoon on this list, not because it’s a particularly challenging one, but because after living in Toronto for five years, encounters with raccoons have become a daily occurrence. The city is overrun with them, to the extent that when one died, it got a memorial worthy of a rock star.

The word raccoon has a rather straightforward etymology. The word is from a Virginia Algonquian dialect aroughcun or aroughcoune. Its first known use in English is in John Smith’s, 1608 Narratives of Early Virginia in a description of the native American chief Powhatan, the father of Pocahontas:

Their Emperour proudly lying upon a Bedstead a foote high, upon tenne or twelve Mattes, richly hung with manie Chaynes of great Pearles about his necke, and coverd with a great Covering of Rahaughcums.

Early spelling of the word varied considerably, with three main forms of the word rahaugcum, arocoun, and raccoone appearing. The spelling standardized around the last in the eighteenth century. Up until the twentieth century, spelling racoon with one C was common.


Oxford English Dictionary, third edition, June 2008, s. v. raccoon, n.

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