Have you ever wondered what goes into an American Indian’s name? One of the first things I do when starting a new book is name the hero of the story. But, why are “eagle,” “hawk,” “horse,” “buffalo,” “bear,” good names for a hero? Well, there are some rules and I thought I’d talk about them.
The Sioux had three different classes of names. The first name would show the order of children…like First Child, or First Born Son. The second class of name (at least in the Lakota society) was the honor name or public names. The third name was a nickname (sometimes an unflattering name). Sometimes a man might gain a honoring name different from one of his childhood and this is sometimes called a “deed” name. And sometimes childhood names remained with a person for all of his/her life.
An honoring name is given usually by the clan medicine-man in a public ceremony. In the story I’m writing currently called, BLUE THUNDER AND THE FLOWER, the opening scene in the book is a scene where a boy is being given an honoring name. His grandfather bestows his own name on the boy, BLUE THUNDER STRIKING.
Trivia question: did you know that Crazy Horse was given his name by his father, who then took a lesser name? The name Crazy Horse was given to him because of a great deed he performed.
Many years ago, when I was adopted into the Blackfeet tribe in Browning, MT, I was given an Indian name, but it was bestowed on me by the chief of the tribe, Chief Old Person.
In the story, BLUE THUNDER AND THE FLOWER, the boy had been given a nickname prior to his honor name, and that name was somewhat unflattering…Little Skunk.
Deed names usually require some act of courage and so the courageous act is celebrated by giving that man or boy a name from some fear-inspiring animal, like a buffalo, a bear or wolf. A noble sort of name might be given to a man from one of the nobler birds, like the eagle, the hawk the owl. Sometimes the character of the courageous act is given along with the name. For instance, swift or strength or endurance and these give the name a descriptive element, like Challenging Wolf.
Here are some honoring name for boys: White Eagle; Black Buffalo; Red Wind; Storm; Kills the Man; Shadow Hawk.
What about names for girls? Well, there were some rules here, as well. No Indian girl was permitted to wear the skin of a bear or a wolf, a cat, etc. Nor could she wear eagle feathers as these were masculine representations. Instead a girl could wear the skins of a doe, ermine, mink, etc.
As far as names were concerned, girls were usually called after the fawn, mink, beaver. While only boys could have the names of the fiercer animals. Both boys and girls could be named after the wind or water or sky, but not by the name of Fire. At least these were the rules in Lakota society.
Here are some names of girls: White Bird; Sky; Jingles; Earth Maiden; Laughing Maid, Swan Maiden.
Also, often in the stories I write, the hero will give the heroine an Indian name, sometimes flattering and sometimes not. In the story THE EAGLE AND THE FLAME, the hero first named the heroine, “Deceiving Woman.” Later, it changes, of course.
So, I thought I’d leave you with an excerpt from my most recent book, IRON WOLF’S BRIDE, and I’ll be giving away a free copy of the book today. So do please leave a comment.
IRON WOLF’S BRIDE
Iron Wolf followed her. It was time to learn what was happening here. Who was that man?
He intended this to be his first question to the woman who should be, and still was, his wife. His second question to her would be why she believed he, her husband, had betrayed her. But this could wait.
He noted that she had fled into a maze that was flanked by fragrant bushes which were taller than a man, and, were he not the scout and tracker he was, he might have become lost within these high shrubs, for the paths intersected one another and led in multiple directions. But he didn’t lose his way. He found her soon enough.
Once he had discovered her, he spoke out softly, so she might become aware he had followed her. “What is going on here? Who is that man you were touching, the one who sat next to you? What is he to you?”
Jane spun around, the look of surprise on her countenance quickly turning to anger. She didn’t pause an instant, though, as she accused, “How dare you follow me!”
“I am your husband. It is my duty to follow you.”
“Well, you can go away now. I came here to be alone.”
Iron Wolf didn’t leave. Instead, he repeated his question, for he intended it to be answered, and he asked once more, “Who is that man?”
“The one you touched. The one who sat beside you tonight.”
“He and I were to be married today.”
She turned her back on him and Iron Wolf didn’t speak; he couldn’t, for he felt as though she had punched him in the gut.
She added, “We didn’t marry today, as it turns out, because I would like my sister to be a part of the marriage ceremony. So we have postponed our wedding for the time being. And now you see that I, too, might marry another, as you have.”
Although he wished to speak out loudly, to rage the truth at her, he found it impossible to find his tongue, and so he paused until at last he was able to say, “My wife, you have become like a wild pony in my absence. How can you marry another when you are already married to me?”
“Am I? Do you forget you divorced me? And, how dare you call me ‘wild,’ when you…when you…” Her voice caught.
He ignored the insult and said instead, “You have now accused me of this too many times. Who has told this to you?”
“No one has ‘told’ it to me, as you say it. It was written up in the newspapers, and I have the divorce papers that you signed, or have you conveniently forgotten that? And, how dare you seduce me in front of all these people tonight; you, who are married to another. Is she here tonight? Does she care that you looked at me as you danced as though you were making love to me?”
She spoke so swiftly that he took a moment to understand all she had said, and then he asked, “Do you speak of the white-man’s newspapers where you saw my ‘wife’?”
“Who showed this to you?”
“Does it matter?”
He sighed. “Hau, hau, it matters. I would ask you again, who has said this to you?”
“My uncle, if you must know.”
“Your uncle who owns this house?”
Iron Wolf took a moment to collect his thoughts, then said, “You are wrong to believe these people, even if they be family.”
“So you can say easily enough. But, my uncle is beyond reproach and I am certain he wouldn’t lie to me. Besides, you forget that I have evidence of your betrayal of me.”
“No,” he countered, “what you have is ‘proof’ that is a lie. And, now I say that it is good you did not marry that man this day, for had you done so, you would have committed a grave error, one I could not easily set aside. So now, you must decide and choose between one or the other of us: me—your husband or that man. For, even in my society, a woman may have only one husband.”
“I have already chosen, and that man is not you.”
“Hau, then I will go.”
“But before I go, I wish to see these papers you have mentioned to me many times. I would witness these lies with my own eyes.”
“They are not lies.”
He raised his voice. “I say they are, and if you continue to tell me these untruths, I will say that you are a woman of no honor, who tells lies, as well.”
“How dare you shout at me, and how dare you say I am not honorable!”
He blew out his breath in an attempt to control his temper. At length, he said, “I am a man who must be convinced. Show me the papers you speak of, for I tell you true: I did not place my written name on anything. I have no other wife, but you. Why would I want another woman when the one I have is the sweetest, the most beautiful woman I have ever known or seen? I ask you, why would I throw away the woman of my heart, for, if I were to do that, would I not destroy her and myself, too?”
He noted that the compliment, spoken as it was from his heart, might have found its target. However, she did not respond favorably, and she turned her back upon him.
He encouraged, “Show me.”
When she turned around, she was crying, and his heart sank to realize that his raised voice and unkind words might have caused her grief. Still, what he’d said had been true.
“Do you really think I stoop to tell fibs? That I don’t have these things in my possession which show you betrayed me and then married another?”
“I would see them.”
She paused, as though she seriously considered his demand, even against her will. At length, she said, “I suppose that might be a fair request. So follow me. I will show you, although I am certain you are already aware of what I am talking about.”
He nodded, but he said nothing except, “Show me. I will do as you ask and follow you.”
She turned around then and stomped out of the maze. And, Iron Wolf, astonished again by the obvious—that this was no act and that his wife truly hated him— trailed after her.