Paumanok — it is a Native American word from a long-gone time. Now a shark who lives off Long Island carries the name.
Ocearch, the nonprofit that tracks sharks, plucked the word out of about 1,000 name suggestions submitted by Long Islanders and shark fans, giving it to a young, great white male tagged off Montauk Tuesday.
Paumanok was what some American Indians called Long Island — it meant “island or land that pays tribute” — and the name was one of the most popular entries, to the surprise of one eighth-grade teacher who thought he’d be alone in thinking of the old word.
“When my kids ask me what I did over the summer, I’ll say ‘I got to name a shark!’ ” said Jonathan Mead, 45, an East Northport resident and science teachers in Elwood schools, describing how he’ll break the name news to his students.
Shark name enthusiasts were tasked to brainstorm and call the Great White something that would reflect Long Island’s heritage and way of life.
Mead said he wanted a name that tied in to the Island’s past and spoke of people who may have thought more about coexisting with the environment. He learned about Paumanok from a graduate course on the Island’s history and from one of his favorite poets, Walt Whitman, a Long Islander.
“It’s like hidden code,” the teacher said. “If you know Paumanok, you know it’s Long Island.”
His explanation for why he chose Paumanok is now on Ocearch’s Global Shark Tracker, which shows the locations of its tagged sharks when they surface and ping.
Paumanok, a 5-foot male weighing almost 64 pounds, was added Thursday night to the Global Shark Tracker, which showed the shark pup’s tag pinging at 9:30 p.m. south of Montauk.
He’s one of nine sharks tagged during Ocearch’s two-week expedition here to see if the waters off Long Island are nursery grounds for these predators, keeping the ecosystem in balance.
Besides Paumanok, there was Gilly Joel, Bumper, Liberty, and yes, Jaws.
A tsunami of about 1,000 entries brought humor, personal stories and local life into the adventure to name the shark.
Sure, there was Quint, Mundus, Amity and a host of names related to the “Jaws” blockbuster novel and movie that cemented the shark’s toothsome reputation — a tale based on a Long Island fisherman and set in a fictional New England summer vacation town.
Others campaigned for such names as Fluffy and Cuddles because they wanted to turn around the predator’s evil image.
But if the challenge was to come up with names that reflect Long Island’s heritage, the themes surfaced like fins above water.
One was Long Island’s Piano Man, Billy Joel. Or Gilly Joel, Billy Jawl, Billy Jaws — you get it.
His hits were hits for shark names, too, from Big Shot to Captain Jack for the boss of the seas. Several gave a nod to the song, “Downeaster Alexa,” Joel’s fish tale about the vanishing baymen plying a depleted ocean, including Jenn Vermilye of Floral Park, who wrote “It’s Long Island’s unofficial anthem, so it’s beyond perfect!”
But if it’s an irrefutable fact of life that the Long Island Expressway is the world’s biggest parking lot and that commuting is just a form of torture, a shark name must chomp on traffic, right?
One suggested Traffic Jammy, others suggested Bumper and one liked Parkway because a parkway leads to the ocean.
Gus Chappory of Greenlawn rooted for Dashing Dan because sharks are “just like our commuters. He’s here, he’s there, he’s everywhere . . . Unless there is a ‘slight delay.’ ”
Yes, shark fans exposed the downsides to life on Long Island too, with an undercurrent of sarcasm.
From New Hyde Park, Bob Busch said he had a suggestion that was so Long Island — NIMBY, an acronym for “not in my backyard” because, he wrote, “I don’t want that shark near LI LOL.”
In Merrick, Mark Ciliotta jabbed at the government (think Jaws and taxes here) with his Shark Atax.
A Manorville resident pitched Loan, writing that “no one can live on Long Island without having many loans.” And waaaiiit for it — “Some people even use a Loan Shark.”
But many gloried in what made Long Island distinctive in their eyes such as BagelsnLox, Gatsby, Diner and Dunes. Peconic took many forms, including Peconic Pete, Peconic Eddie, Peconic Queen and Peconic Penny.
MOJO paid tribute to Robert Moses, one of the architects of the Island’s infrastructure, and Maj. Thomas Jones, whose name graces one of the state’s most popular beaches. Atlantic Sounder combined the two bodies of water surrounding the Island. President Theodore Roosevelt scored with Teddy, Rough Riders and Sagamore, his Oyster Bay home.
The original Long Islanders were not forgotten on the list. Sachem, Shinnecock, Pow Wow and their variations frequently popped up, but one name was mentioned repeatedly.
“Paumanok, as it is one of the names the Native Americans gave Long Island when they first settled here,” a Northport woman wrote. “It is said to mean ‘the island that pays tribute.’ ”
And in the short space of a shark name submission, many wrote touchingly of what made Long Island great for them. Taking their children to the beaches. Lazing on a summer day by the water. An appreciation for nature, including the shark’s strength and the beauty of its marbled skin.
Ocearch founder Chris Fischer has given the names Montauk, Hudson, Hampton and Gotham to four other great white pups tagged off the East End in the past few days. They’ve been active pingers on the nonprofit’s Global Shark Tracker, which means they’re surfacing long enough for satellites to estimate their locations.