Issue 197, page 1

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Native American Names

First, let us say that most "Native Americans" we know prefer to be called "Indians".  We prefer that too, so now that we all know who we are going to be talking about here, we will refer to them as Indians 

The names of the various North American Indian peoples come from two major sources: from each people's name for itself, or from their neighbors.  Groups often called themselves "the people" or "human beings", while their neighbors identified them by some attribute.

Below is a list of Indian group or tribal names, and the etymology of each.  

Abenaki: from Montagnais wabanakiwek "dawn land people".  The Montagnais are from present day Quebec and Labrador.

Algonquian: from Maliseet elakomkwik "they are our relatives".  The Maliseet came from the St. John River valley in New Brunswick and northeast Maine, and the Algonquians lived along the Ottawa River valley in Quebec and Ontario.

Anasazi: from Navajo anaasazi, "enemy's ancestors", from anaa "enemy" and bizazi "ancestors".

Blackfoot (Algonquian): from their own word siksika "black foot" from sik "black" and ika "foot", because of their black moccasins

Blackfoot (Sioux): from their own word sihasapa "black feet", again, like the Algonquian Blackfeet, because they wore black moccasions

Cherokee: from their own word tsalaki "real people"

Choctaw: from their own word chahta "the people"

Quanah Parker, last great Comanche chief and statesmanComanche: from Spanish Comanche, from the Southern Paiute word kimmanchi "strangers"

Hopi: from their own word hopi "peacable"

Huron: from French Huron, from Old French hure "bristling hair"

Innuit: plural of their own word Inuk "human being".  See below for a discussion of usage of Innuit versus Eskimo.

Maliseet: from Micmac malisitt "one who speaks an incomprehensible language".

Ojibwa: from their own word o'chepe'wag "plaited shoes" referring to how their moccasins differed from those of other tribes.  The English Chippewa comes from the same source, and originally referred to the Ojibwa, but now it is used to refer to other groups.

Shawnee: from their word shaawanooki "those of the South".

Sioux: from the Francified nadouessioux, from Ottawa naadowesiweg "lesserRed Cloud of the Lakhota Sioux snakes", where "greater snakes" or naadowe referred to the Iroquois.  The Ottawa apparently did not like their eastern NOR their western neighbors!  The Sioux refer to themselves as "the people", where khota in Dakhota, Lakhota and Nakhota (historical names of the three main Sioux groups) means "people".  

Now for that discussion regarding Eskimo versus InuitIt has been suggested that Eskimo is derogatory because it comes from an Abenaki word meaning "eaters of raw meat".  Most etymologists do not agree with this and suggest that it comes, instead, via French Esquimaux, from a Montagnais word ayashkinew "a Micmac" and ultimately refers to a specific way of lacing a snow shoe!  Because of the incorrect "raw meat" etymology, however, careful speakers avoid Eskimo and use Inuit, even though Eskimo correctly refers to more peoples than Inuit does.

We found some interesting links during our research of American Indian peoples' names:

A discussion in the change in meaning of the word squaw

A confident discussion of a derivation that most etymologist (including M&M) do not accept (but it is interesting nonetheless)

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