1630s, squunck, from a southern New England Algonquian language (perhaps Massachusett) word, from Proto-Algonquian */šeka:kwa/, from */šek-/ "to urinate" + */-a:kw/ "fox." As an insult, attested from 1841. Skunk cabbage, which grows in moist ground in the U.S. and gives of a strong pungent odor when bruised, is attested from 1751; earlier was skunkweed (1738).
town founded in 1833, named from a Canadian French form of an Algonquian word, either Fox /sheka:ko:heki/ "place of the wild onion," or Ojibwa shika:konk "at the skunk place" (sometimes rendered "place of the bad smell"). The Ojibwa "skunk" word is distantly related to the New England Algonquian word that yielded Modern English skunk (n.). Related: Chicagoan (1847; Chicagoian is from 1859).
Originally "substance of the Trinity;" the general sense of "basic element of anything" is first recorded in English 1650s, though this is the underlying notion of the first English use of essential. Meaning "ingredient which gives something its particular character" is from c. 1600, especially of distilled oils from plants (1650s), hence "fragrance, perfume" (17c.). In 19c. U.S., essence-peddler could mean "medical salesman" and "skunk."