What Are Some Native American Names and Their Meanings?

What Are Some Native American Names and Their Meanings?

Tecumseh, "panther passing across," was the name of the Shawnee leader who tried to rally all the tribes to fight as one against the Europeans. Sacagawea, "bird woman," was the Shoshone-Hidatsa woman who led Lewis and Clark through the West. Cuauhtemoc, "falling eagle," was the last Emperor of the Aztecs.

Native American names have both descriptive power and poetic beauty. Naming traditions differed across tribes, but most Native Americans had many names over the course of their lives. The first name to be given was a birth name, often related to the time and circumstances of birth. For example, "Cha'kwaina" meant "one who cries" in Hopi, while "Wenona" meant "firstborn daughter."

When children attained adulthood, they were given names that described something about them. Among the Sioux, for instance, "Wakiza" meant "desperate warrior," and "Zonta" indicated trustworthiness.

Names often had to be earned through achievements. The Mapuche name "Nahuel" meant "jaguar" and would not be easily won nor lightly given. The name of the Aztec's last emperor, "Cuauhtemoc," meaning "falling eagle," now seems prophetic and ominous, but when it was given, it undoubtedly referred to the dive of an eagle on the attack.

Some Native Americans also had totemic names and ceremonial names that had to remain secret, as they believed that enemies that knew their secret names could gain power over them.