Names and Naming (American Indians Ready Reference)
Article abstract: Indian names were often descriptive of a person’s unique trait or of a significant action or event in his or her life
At the time of first contact with Europeans, North American Indians generally used a single name for an individual, rather than attaching a surname as was the European fashion. Indian names were often descriptive of some action or trait or of some occurrence in the life of the bearer. The translations were deemed “colorful” by Europeans, although mistranslations were common, such as the case in which a name meaning “Young Man Whose Very Horses Are Feared” was mistranslated as “Young Man Afraid of His Horses.” These names were not static throughout life, but could change many times between birth and late adulthood. Various tribes followed different naming practices. Usually Indians did not name themselves but were given names by parents, shamans, or other members of their tribal group. Some names could be inherited from a dead ancestor, and were bestowed following the prevalent line of descent, either matrilineal or patrilineal. It was considered improper for an Indian to mention his or her own name, and husbands and wives generally did not use their proper names when speaking to each other.
When an Indian child was born, naming might be delayed from a few days to a few months. This often paralleled the intensification of pregnancy taboos surrounding the mother, which were...
(The entire section is 656 words.)
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