What are some Native American last names? (2020)

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Native American last names

Last names are relatively new in all cultures. In Europe, many people in many places did not have last names until 1800 when bureaucracies demanded them.

In many places, a patronymic was more common. Iceland still does this today. Other places only the elite had surnames.

Many Scottish and Welsh people did not adopt surnames until the 17th century, or later.

In England, surnames became common in the 1400s. Nicknames, occupation names, descriptive names, place names, clan names, and patronymics eventually became surnames.

In North America, there were hundreds of utterly unrelated languages and cultures and naming traditions.

Native people took the last name or were required to have last names at different times across what is now the country.

There is not one pattern. In places with early contact, a man took “English” or “French” or “Spanish” names. In Alaska, some took Russian names.

Friends, In some places, people translated the names of parents and made them surnames.

In other places, people took a “white” name and kept a Native language name for personal use.

In other places, people used a clan name. Some places people tried to write the name in Latin letters or how an English speaker could say it.

Puerto Rican last name

Native American last names
Native American last names

There are many Native languages that have sounds that English does not have. So, for example, the name Seattle is an attempt to pronounce siʔaɫ. It has two syllables.

The mark that looks like a question mark without the dot at the end is a glottal stop as in “Uh oh.” It had a “glottalized barred lambda” at the end, which is an explosive sound.

What are some Native American last names? (2020)

Later the pronunciation shifted to a lateral “l,” a sound something like “Alsh”. Hudson’s Bay Company traders gave him the nickname Le Gros (The Big Guy). He was also given the baptismal name of Noah Sealth.

When in some places names were translated, sometimes the translations were poor. For example, I stayed on the Young-Man-Afraid-Of-His-Horses property for a few weeks on Pine Ridge.

Tȟašúŋke Kȟokípȟapi who lived from 1836 – 1893 had his name translated as Young-Man-Afraid-Of-His-Horses.

It really meant that the person with that name was so feared in a battle that even the sight of his horse would inspire fear.

Santana Young Man Afraid of His Horses was crowned Miss Oglala Lakota Nation at the 30th Annual Oglala Lakota Nation Wacipi, Rodeo and Fair in 2015.

In the Navajo Nation, many people have names that are clan names or descriptive names that were then attempted to put into English.

Examples are Etcitty (from atsidí —smith) or Nez (big). Others were translated, like Many Goats (a clan). Others were from a grammar confusion. Begay (from biyeʼ) means “son of”.

In Navajo grammar, that comes at the end after the name of the person and was confused by Americans as a last name.

Hopi’s last names are often simply attempting to write Hopi in English letters. Examples are Komelastewa, or Banyacya or Loloma.

Inuit, Yupik, or Inupiat surnames can be Russian like Demientieff or transliterated like Uniuqsaraq or Tunutmoak or English words like Bell or Coffee or Beaver.

Native American last names

When the Federal Government forced all the Navajo into the Reservation at Bosque Redondo. They recorded each person’s name.

Those who didn’t provide their own last name were assigned, Begay. So it kinda meant “no last name”. In reality, Begay was a transliteration of the word meaning “his son” or “her son”.

Here are some of the names tribespeople submitted and were recorded as last names

  • Yazzie=Little One
  • Nez =Tall
  • Tsosie=Slim
  • Chee =Red
  • Benally= Grandchild
  • Peshlakai =Sliver
  • Etsyddy =Metal worker

In Northern Canada, the locals didn’t have last names before European contact, likely because they lived in such small groups that it was possible for everyone to have one unique name.

People are still sometimes given a name in their native language. I went to school with a girl who’s the name translated to “the sweet rain that falls at the beginning of summer” (it was much shorter in Chipewyan!) and she went by Honey Rain.

However, when it came time to sign treaties or attend school, it became necessary to adopt last names.

Often, these names were simply picked by the priests who kept all the early records, many of whom were French.

Native American last names

One of the large families in town was called Catholique, and one was named Mercredi, the French word for Wednesday.

Many of the people who came north in the early days were Scots, so one of the largest families in town was the MacDonalds. Another common native surname was Bourque/Bourke/Burke.

They were all pronounced the same, and all descended from the same Mr. and Mrs. Burke, but the story goes that a long-suffering postal worker got fed up with trying to sort all the letters addressed to one of the dozen Mr. Burkes in town, and assigned several people a new spelling.

TL;DR: Many natives never had surnames, and so had them assigned by whoever kept records in the town, usually clergy.

What are some Native American last names? (2020)

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