Choctaw Names

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”.

EXAMPLES:

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-separated-with-the-hand-and-killed: Nahotabi

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

When-you-get-there-deliver-it: Onatima.

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

Grandmother: Apokni

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