What’s In A Name?

Much is made of naming among the enthusiasts. It seems to be among the first things we seek; our Native name. But there is much about the subject of names that is not understood without deeper consideration.

Obviously, a name becomes our identity. Whatever name we bring to the Native community has meaning and holds identity in whatever ethnicity we came from. My English names come from my grandfathers. They are the names that appear on all legal documents for the state of Pennsylvania and the United States. They are the names under which I ply my trade as a farrier.

In the context of my Native community, among those who know me, I am known as Suckachsinheet, the blacksmith. That is a nickname, a name by which I am identified, but it is not my formal name. Only those who know me very well, or those who have known me for a very long time, have any knowledge of what many would call my “spirit name”. That is the name that goes beyond what I do and speaks to who I am.

I will not expound on the proper origin of names. Different cultures have different traditions regarding naming. I will say that I originally received my name from a “namegiver”. I now use a variant of that original name, which I received inadvertently from a former friend and which I consider to have been inspired by Spirit. The variant further refines the meaning of the original name.

The naysayers might scoff at both of these events and discount the legitimate right of either of those individuals to give a Native name. Yet I will attest that the name given to both my wife and I have closely tracked with our journeys in the Native community.

Neither conform to the stereotypical standard of “action modifier”-“animal name” (e.g. Squatting Dog). We were both originally tagged with names of that nature, but when we requested a name from a grandfather claiming Shawnee descent (who was identified to us as a qualified namegiver) we both received a name that more closely conforms to the cultural standard among the Lenape, as I have since been informed. I seriously doubt that Grandfather Thunderbear knew that; I believe Spirit just gave him the correct names.

I have been told that, historically, a Native individual might receive several names in their lifetime. In some cultures a spirit name might be procured for the child from a medicine person shortly after they are born. They might be tagged with some behavioral descriptor as a child. But it would not be until they have reached maturity that they will receive a more formal name from a vision or for an act of bravery. And that might occur more than once in their adulthood.

In my experience, enthusiasts are too hasty to assume a name before Spirit can provide a real identity. A good name, properly acquired, can have power and help the enthusiast throughout their journey to find their place in the Native community.