- Indians did not have family names handed down from father to son or daughter.
Each Indian had his individual name.
An Indian might take his name from something
he saw in a dream, and he might change it many times if he felt the name
he had was unlucky. He might change his name, also, after some notable
deed, and if he did nothing more notable later he would keep the name for
The Cheyenne did not name a boy until he
had gone to war and "counted coup' on an enemy. Then he was often
named for something that happened on his journey, some animal killed, or
some bird he had seen which he thought had helped him overcome his enemy.
In some tribes certain names were taboo.
For instance, the Bannock would not name anyone after a fox, dog, coyote,
or wolf. In other tribes it was customary not to speak the name of
any animal whose name a dead man had borne.
Girls usually got their names from flowers
and from attractive things in nature. Some received their names from
It was common in many tribes to carry on
the name of a famous warrior or brave man after his death, his relatives
would assemble and decide who would bear the name. If the man who
was chosen agreed to assume the name, he was also expected to assume all
the dead man's former duties. If the dead man had been a chief, he
became a chief. he considered all the dead man's enemies his own
enemies. He became the dead man's widow's husband and the father
of his children. his former name was passed on to some one of his
This act was known as bringing the dead
back to life. Indians were superstitious about speaking the name
of a dead man until that name had been given to a living person.
They thought the very mention of the name would disturb the spirit of the
departed. Thus the old chief, Seattle, of the tribes around Puget
Sound, insisted on payment when the white men named the City of Seattle
for him. he felt that this payment of tribute would make it easier
on his spirit, which would be disturbed when the white man spoke his name
after he had died. names, too, were personal property and could be
bought and sold.
Often it was considered improper for an
Indian to mention his own name, and personal names were not used by husbands
and wives when speaking to each other.
Indian names which described some incident
in the life of their bearers are to be found in such as Chief Twelve O'Clock,
Chief Crazy Horse, Chief Rain-in-the-Face, Chief Dull Knife, Chief Woman's
Shirt, Chief Hiole-in-the-Day, and others. There was a Chief Stinking
Saddle Blanket, who got his name because he had been too busy fighting
his enemies to change his sweaty saddle blanket.
When named for a living person, an Indian
changed the name slightly, Big Wolf becoming Little Wolf, etc.
within this Site
][ Coup ][ Crazy Horse
][ Dreams ]
Knife ][ Hole-in-the-Day ][ Rain-in-the-Face
][ White Man ][ Women