Choosing your Indian name
By Rita Laws
Choosing your Indian name (if you were not given one) is fun and challenging. There are no rules to follow if you are Choctaw. You can be of any age, blood quantum, and profession. The only requirement is your desire to participate in an ancient ritual that may help you toward a better understanding of Choctaw culture.
It is entirely up to you how you use your name and when, if ever. You may use it in front of, in the middle of, or after your other names. Historically, the most common names were combinations of nouns and adjectives, or verbs and adverbs. But you can choose any word or phrase you like, just as our ancestors did.
Some tribes encourage vision quests. Choosing a name can involve isolation, fasting and relating of dreams. But the Choctaw approach is more informal.
In the past, our people could have many names in one lifetime, either changing each time, or adding new names to the old. The first name was bestowed by parents at birth and usually related to something that happened or that was seen during the birth. Since women birthed outside near streams, names were quite diverse and many described animals or nature. A few historical examples include:
Yellow Tree: ltilakna Walking Wolf: Nashoba nowa
Child Chief: Minko puskus Honey: Foe bila
The names added over the course of a lifetime might represent any event in an individual’s life, ranging from the trivial to a great victory in battle. Many names came from different groups, but there were exceptions to this, too. The red or humma group was one of distinction. Taking a red name called on the Choctaw to act with honor and courage. Humma was probably one of the largest name groups. Examples from our history include:
Bird, red: Hushi humma Flute, red: Uskula humma
Kettle, red: Iyasha humma Choctaw, red: Chahta humma
Meal, red: Pusha humma Brave, red: Chilita humma
Fox, red: Chula humma Feather, red: Shikoba humma
People (or tongue), red: Okla humma (Oklahoma)
Holahta was another name group meaning roughly “leader”.
House “Leader”: Chuka holahta
War leader or prophet: Holahta hopaii
Groups names could be combined as in: Holahta humma: Holahta red or, literally, leader, red.
Men often took names after battles, especially In the abi (killer) group, i.e.,
In-a-house-he-took-and-killed: Chuka ishtabi
Chief-who-took-and-killed: Minko imastabi
He-seized-a-white-man-and-killed-him: Naholo imastabi
Women who were official messengers might take names such as:
To-deliver-something-sacred: Mantema, or
Official names sometimes given to the wife of a chief Included:
Speaker: Nompashtika (or Nompatisholi).
When I began searching for my Indian name, I wanted something which sounds positive. Since we lived in a time of peace, I have great optimism for the future of my children and of my people. When I located my new name, the words almost jumped off of the page at me! There It was, Hina Hanta, meaning path, bright. So, now I am Bright path. Saying this name always makes me feel very proud! Later, It was with joy that I found my name has a second meaning as well: Way of Peace!
The following short list is a sampling of words and phrases from the Choctaw Dictionary that were already grouped together, Perhaps some of them had once been used a as names? Remember, tradition says you can change or add to your name as often as you like, or never at all.
A certain small wild animal: Toni
Beadmaker: Shikalla ikbi White Bear: Nita tohbi
Young Bear: Nitushi Big black river: Lunsa chito
Young Bird: Hushushi Small blackbird: Shinkak
Born first: Tikba atta Butterfly: Hatabushik
Catfish: Nakishwana Change of the moon: Hashilli
One who is cheerful: Yukpa Choctaw Man: Chahta hatak
Clap of thunder: Hiloha To convey news: Anoli
Fox cub: Chula ushi Gray Eagle: Talako
Small eagle: Hanan Grandfather: lmafo
Blue Hawk: Shanafila Married man: Hatak awaya
Believer in the gospel: Aba anumpa yimmi
To carry to heaven: Aba isht ona
Youngest child: Alia isht aiopi
Choctaw Woman: Chahta ohoyo
To be of the Choctaws: Chahta isht atia
The coming of daylight: Onnat minti
Eagle-eyed: lmanukfila tunshpa
Flash of lightning: Hashuk malli
Flying clouds: Hoshonti yabata
One who mimics: Hobachi Sits apart: Naksika binili
Moves quickly: Kannakli Fair Sky: Masheli
Acts for peace: Nanaiya Large Star: Fichik chito
Makes peace: Achukmalechi Teaches: lmabachi
Large Tree: Iti chito Chestnut Tree: Otapi
Yellow pine: Tiak hobak True Heart: Chunkash anli
Large path: Hina chito Warrior: Nakni
Steep place: Sakti chaha Washed bright: Okshauanli
Purified: Kashofa Cool water: Oka kapassa
Rainmaker: Umbachi Deep water: Okshakla
River, red: Oka humma Whale: Nani chito
Sensible man: Kostini hatak Way of Peace: Hina hanta
Wise Woman: Ohoyo Yellow jacket: Yakni foi
Wise man: Hatak hopoksia
Wise woman: Ohoyo hopoksia
Skillful singer: Taloa imponna
Sensible woman: Kostini ohoyo
Wind feathers on an arrow: Hotti
Silver pen: Tali isht holissochi
Peacock feather: Okchanlush chito shinshi
Peach stone, red: Takkon foni humma
Overgladness of heart: Chunkash yukpa atapa
Choosing an Indian name is a small but significant event in the life of an Indian. Once done, It is cause for celebration, for it reaffirms the importance of Choctaw tradition! May your search be yukpa (joyful)!
Sources: Choctaw Social and Ceremonial Life, OK. Choctaw Council, Inc., Second edition, 1983
English to Choctaw Dictionary, OK. City Council of Choctaws, Seventh edition, 1981
Copyright ©1998 by Rita Laws
Choctaw Names For Choctaw Babies
By Rita Laws
The Choctaw people can be proud of the fact that many of our ways and traditions have been preserved. Our language, however, is a virtual mystery for all but a few of our people. As a child, I remember standing in awe of my family’s most cherished relic – an old Bible written in the Choctaw tongue, while feeling discouraged at the same time because I could not read it.
When our fifth child was born, I was determined his would be a Choctaw name. But the family tree contained only Anglo names. When traditions are lost, it becomes necessary to create a new tradition, and that is what we did.
We wrote to a bookstore and obtained a book called English to Choctaw Dictionary. Finding a name for our son became an exciting search not unlike that for treasure When I found it, I knew right away that it fit him. The Choctaw word I found was Haloka and it means “Loved One”.
Following is a list of other beautiful Choctaw words and their meanings which may be of use to parents and parents-to-be. If you cannot find what you want here, you may want to consider ordering the book. Its six hundred pages contain thousands of entries. The book was published in 1981 by the Oklahoma City Council of Choctaws, Inc.
As you search for just the right name, I wish you “imola” or “Good Luck”
English – Choctaw English – Choctaw
Choctaw – Chahta grace – kana
agreeable – chukma handsome – chito, achukma
baby – allunsi joyful – yukpa
bear – nita beloved – haloka
beginning – amona man – hatak
bright – malata nature – nana moma
captivating – ishi friend – kana
chief – minko peace – chulosa, samanta
child – alla people – okla
eagle – talako, onssi red – humma
enormous – chito deer – isi
evening – opia woman – ohoyo
gentle – kostina wise – kostini
wish – banna faithful – anli
summer – palli feather – hishi, shikopa
autumns – ahpi free – onafa
Copyright ©1998 by Rita Laws