What is a Name?

I have a friend that works with Indian people. He was doing some research and came across an interesting last name, Beats His Wife. This name confused him a bit and I certainly understand his concern. What a horrible name to carry with you. Part of the issue is that everyone outside of the family or people on Fort Peck has no clue as to the actual origin of the name. I do not know but the first conclusion could be incorrect, other than physically beating a wife how could such a name come about? I can think of two very likely scenarios for such a name and that is the husband winning a game of chance or of skill over his wife. There is probably a good story behind the name it is likely I will never know it.

I have been thinking about names recently. Before this morning it was more about Google+ and their real name policy for users of Google+. The debate has raged for over a month and has brought to light how many of us do not use our legal names in everyday life. I am not going to go through the many good reasons for people to use pseudonyms in life, in the debate many others have expressed why. I am going to tackle this as a cultural issue not so much a legal or safety issue.

Traditionally Indian people were given a name near birth. They carried that name till they were old enough to earn an adult name. Sometimes that name would change due to an Important or even humorous event. Look back to the name He Beats His Wife. If I am right that must have been one hell of a wager or test of skill. In the late 1800’s when the Lakotas were placed on the reservations the name of the adult male of the family unit was used as a last or Christian name. First names were most often biblical in nature. There are still lots of John’s and Mary’s today. Attempts to stamp out traditional culture also extended to naming traditions, once someone was given a recorded name that was their legal name for life.

But that is not the end of the story.

We all have a legal name, pull out your driver’s license, birth certificate, social security card, all you skins out there pull out your CDIB. Are you known by that printed name by everyone you know? Has that name ever changed? As kids most of us were saddled with nick names. Sometimes those nicknames stick. Nicknames are popular in Indian communities and sometimes it goes even deeper. Ceremonial names are bestowed upon many; these names are used in honor songs and in ceremonies. Most consider these ceremonial names as their true names. They are rarely, if ever, given to outsiders and it is a terrible social indiscretion to ask someone what their ceremonial or Indian name happens to be. Not all Indian names are secret. Many are announced at public gatherings with song, ceremony and give-a-ways. These names are never put on legal documents but the community knows them by a name that although not legal is very much real. Being asked to name a child is a very high honor and the name must be chosen with research and deliberation into the person’s temperament, personal and family history. Sometimes someone can give up their own name and thus choose another for themselves. Many of the old school name taboos have been dropped but once you give our name you no longer own that name.

Nicknames are also used and will change with events or locations and communities. I have many nicknames

Istagi – not really a nickname it is my last name in Lakota.

Buff – short for Buffalo, Buffy was already taken

Hawk – not sure where this came from

Yellow Hawk – Yellow is one of my favorite colors and since Hawk is a pretty common name they added the Yellow descriptor. My Bloodelf hunter in World of Warcraft is named YellowHawk so that is my name with my guild and they call me Yellow Hawk or just Yellow.

Pepto – I got this one at sun dance one year when I did not get enough sun before the ceremony. By the 3rd day I have turned a bright pink color due to sun burn. The pink pipestone dust that was put on me to alleviate any further damage did nothing but enhance the pepto pink color of my body.

These are all names I will respond to. I hear them and I know that it is the title that I carry just as much as my legal name. These names are not any more real or fake than what is on my driver’s license.

I know that other cultures take names very seriously.

So what is your Name?


About ikcewicasa

Ikcewicasa means common man in Lakota. I guess that describes me. I am turning 40 next year. I have a college degree and I have a professional job. The blog is just random stuff. I try and keep most of my posts humorous in nature sprinkled with a bit of American Indian items, soundtracks (which I love), food (something I also love) and movies (when I have the money and time to go see them. so basically ramblings that rattle around in my mind. Hope you enjoy. Like what you read? comment and re post. don't like what you read, let me know as well. ALL STORIES ON THIS SITE ARE ABSOLUTELY TRUE... EXCEPT THE PARTS I MAKE UP!
This entry was posted in Does this smell funny to you?, Native Stuff. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What is a Name?

  1. Bambi says:

    I totally love your writings and I think you have missed the boat. Not only is this a wonderful story, I also learned quite a bit…but you did forget another nick name…and that is just plain Hawk. Which you will be forever known as in my book.

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