TRADITIONAL NAMING OF THE CHEROKEE
Traditionally a person desiring a name asks for one knowing that naming is not a simple matter and that everyone is not
named in the same way. As in almost all others aspects of our common life, a person asks for a name and brings a gift bundle
to the one who will transmit the name.
A boy now approaching manhood sent a gift and asked for an adult name. I am praying that Grandfather will give a name
for him with sweet grass and sage prayers, drumming, meditation and fasting. When the name is given in a dream or simply know
in the heart, in a ceremony, the name shall be given to the man.
Following the example of one of my teachers who suggests, "A name is one of the most important events of one's life.
It is not something that should or could be taken lightly." It is my hope that the youth to be named will know in his
heart that he is now called a man by the people and that he carries a man's name given by Grandfather.
For just a few, there is the old tradition of a secret name. A few babies presented to a person on the spirit path are
given this secret name, known only to the giver, the child, and to Grandfather. This secret name is carried in the heart of
the person named and never revealed to those who do not know it.
While some may never be given a name or may be called only after their father's name if a boy or the mother's name if
a girl, most children are given a child's name by a relative, a close person to the family, or a medicine person at the presentation
of a baby soon after birth. After that, at various stages of development, the name may be changed. Children's names, like
Rat Boy, Little Butterfly, Pony Boy, Little Warrior, Bear Cub, and Small Flower, identify childhood. When a boy becomes a
man or a girl becomes a maiden, the name may be changed to identifies youth. In aging the name may be changed many times as
circumstances suggest a more appropriate name and the people recognize achievement.
It is possible to go through life with many name changes. However, the name that the people use will be the name that
you have. A few of the examples of how and when a name might be changed might be:
1. a deed is performed; bold, courageous, embarrassing; and the people start calling you by a name, that is your
2. a person takes up a vision quest, has a vision or an especially important dream, and/or consults a teacher
on the spirit path, that person might receive a new name as a result of this significant experience. Recently a youth from
The Red Oak People had a very important vision of the night land, as a far away valley. In it he saw his departed relatives
who had crossed over. He recognized that he had been transported there. He looked into the sky and saw circling above that
valley a hawk and an eagle. These spirit guides called him "brother." He became focused on these two spirit animals.
It is as if he looked them in the eyes and they looked into his heart. After he consulted two seekers on the spirit path,
he was named in a ceremony, Brother Of Hawk And Eagle. It should be remembered that he was named by the hawk and eagle of
his vision. The spirit persons in ceremony merely passed him the name that had already been given.
3. another example a hunter saw a deer standing before him, and felt its eyes looking into his heart. He saw
the deer again in a dream. And so his name was given from the dream and vision as Standing Deer.
You may ask for a name from a person on the spirit path, who may give you a name with or without ceremony. Your family
may simply call you by a name. A few might choose a name and ask the people to call you by that name. Whatever the people
call you is your name.
Names given by Grandfather through a person on the spirit path have traditionally been considered prophetic. Names probably
should not be ignored as they make a statement about the person and about the people. Any name earned as a result of good
deeds for the people is considered significant. Among traditional Cherokee, a name given by a person on the Spirit path is
If you would like a Native American name. If you do, any of the above ways to be named is appropriate. Might I suggest
that you ask Grandfather for guidance in this. And that you might consult a person on the Spirit Path for help. When Grandfather
gives a name for you, in some way it will be gifted to you though it may take some months for this to happen.
Further it seems that a name given in a ceremony is very important. As the people are gathered, they give assent to the
name. This seems to be the best way to follow our tradition. I am sure there are other ways that names can be given and received.
Excerpts used form this page, for teaching. Full credit To:
© DR. SPIRIT OF NIGHT EAGLE CURTIS