Naming Traditions of Indigenous American Tribes

Blog > Naming tradition among native Americans
Posted on: October 28th, 2018by Elizabeth Henderson

Culture is who we are. Our cultural values are reflected in several ways in our lives; including in our names. Names are specific to cultures. The indigenous American tribes had unique and complex naming traditions before their interaction with other cultures. They used descriptive names which depended on the personal experiences and accomplishments. One's name would change with the life experiences as he or she undergoes growth and development. What an effective way to uphold both culture and individual identity. If my name at birth meant "a weak person", I would work hard as I grow up to so that I may have a name that reflects strong values.

The Native American naming tradition was used to promote values. The names were drawn mostly from nature. These people found every aspect of nature fascinating and this influenced their naming traditions. According to this society, our human nature is reflective of our natural environment. Some people are like the lakes, they change very little as they grow. Others are like rivers; they begin small and continue to grow larger as they flow towards the seas. Every individual did their best to live up to the meanings of their names. Those who did not like their names tried to change the course of their lives so that they earn new names in the next stage.

The naming system of the Native Americans tied together nature with the individual's personality. One common name among these people is Dancing Wind. Surprised? Yeah, these people would give any name as long as it has attachment to nature and it reflects personal attributes. Dancing Wind is a unisex name that means a tornado. You may be wondering, why the family would want to call their baby a tornado. The babies who show violent reactions are named thus. It was given as a warning to the person to work on his or her temperament. In this culture, the name Bear is as common as James. When the family changes this name to Wounded Bear, it is sending the message to the other members of the community that the person is going a lot of pain and needs tender care.

The naming norms among the Native American tribes were meant to inspire individuals to heal, evolve, and work at self-improvement. For instance, look at the name Eagle Eye. It was given to people who demonstrated capacities for great eyesight or those who have the power to connect to the world of the spirits. This name would inspire the young individual to be keen on details about life. Other than inspiring a sense of identity and personality, the naming norms also created strong connection to nature. These people knew that they formed an integral part of nature. Hence, the designed their naming traditions to help them continue to feel the strong sense of being part of it.

The original native names were complex compared to the current names. However, they seemed to bear meanings that are more important to the society. If the rest of the world had adopted these naming patterns, we would have minimized the moral vices that are prevalent in our society. For example, as a child you are given to wanting more than your equal share, the family should call you a hyena. As you grow up, you will feel that this name does not deserve to be part of your personal identity. Therefore, you will try hard to change your approach to things and have your name changed from a hyena to a lamb or a dove.

The interaction between the Native American tribes and other cultures has significantly affected their naming traditions. Unlike in the past, the name is given once to the baby and it does not change even as he or she grows into adulthood. However, the original indigenous names are still existent and they bear the same meanings they had borne in the past. Akule is a Native American name for the boy child. The name means "the one who looks up". This is a great name to give to your baby boy. It will always be a reminder to him that even when things are hard he must keep the fight as he looks forward to a better day.

Adoeette is the female name which means "great tree". This name has its origin among the Kiowa people. When you give your little girl the name Adoeette, you are urging her to grow up into a virtuous woman. The name also asserts that the girl will grow up to be a breadbasket for the family. For the first meaning, trees produce fruits, develop deep roots and green leaves. All these attributes are reflective of human virtues. The society expects us to bear good fruits and grow deep roots so that we act as pillars to others. For the second meaning, just as trees feed us with fruits, a good woman ensures that there is plenty of food in the home.

Chepi means "fairy". This name belongs to Algonquian tribe. The name is given to baby girls who look beautiful and gentle. The essence of this name is to help the girl always carry herself with grace and flair.

The name Donoma means "the visible sun". It belongs to an indigenous tribe known as Omaha. A little girl is called "the visible sun only for one purpose, which is to make her always shine bright and be the guiding light for her peers. I think I would give such a name to my little girl. This is because I know this name will inspire virtues in her.

Honovi is a unisex name among the Hopi people. The name means "stron". When given to a girl, she is expected to grow up to be a strong woman and mother. Similarly, the boy would grow up to be a strong husband, father, and leader in the society.

Jacy is a male name that means "the moon". The moon lights our paths at night when there is darkness. When Jacy is born, he takes away the gloom from the life of his mother. When he grows up, he becomes the moon for his wife and his children. His work is to guide through darkness into light.

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