Native American Names

+22 votes
What is the procedure for Native American Names. My files have names like "Lone Walker" but his offspring did not take on the last name Walker or Lone Walker during this time. Also when girls were born they were given a name (example Pine Woman) and when they were married they were given a different name by there husband,  also would I put the Blackfeet name as there real name and there English name as there nick name?

I am processing a gedcom file right now but might delete it to make changes before it uploads.
in Policy and Style by Kitty Carr G2G1 (1.9k points)
retagged by Abby Glann
It would be hard to search if the tribal name is used as a last name. It would be like giving the last name of those born in France a last name of France.  I think if you are going to use the tribal name it should have a line of its own having nothing to do with the name of a person. Being Native American and related to Chief Buffalo I know how difficult it is to search for these names. I do know that many natives took the name of their father as a last name. Chief Buffalo or Ketchi-Waishkey took the last name of his father, Wabojeeg Waishkey.   Some of Waubojeeg children took the name Waishkey and some took the last name of Waubojeeg. One sister, Equaysayway took the last name as Waubojeeb.  Another sister , Pash-at-comme-(go)-quay. Took the last name of Waishkey. If you put Ojibwe as their last name you could come up with every person associated with the Ojibwe tribe.  

If you know the tribe though you may be able to search through their census records, which give both the native and English names most of the time. That is one good reason to have a line with just the tribal designation and not associated with the name.
The tribe name is only used as LNAB for individuals who did not have a surname at birth.  If the person acquired a surname later in life, that is entered as Current Last Name.

4 Answers

+14 votes
Best answer
I would enter their given name at birth as shown on the birth certificate with the English version in " name here  " marks or as nick name.

You can always change the order of the name in editing of the profile once you have made the profile for the person(s).
by David Selman G2G Astronaut (1.3m points)
selected by Amanda Phillips
+12 votes
How do others have him listed?   How do you want others to find him?

 You could list him by his NA name and have his English name as an alternate or vice versa.   If you are going to use the NA name I would use the name in the original language rather than the English translation.  For example 'Maza Blaska' in Lakota, rather than 'Flat-Iron' in English.

Others list the NA name as a middle name.  For example Catherine Annenontak Arendanki.   Annenontak was her original name but she was baptized as Catherine when she married Jean Durand and became Catherine Durand.   In this case using the NA name seems more appropriate.
by Marc Snelling G2G6 (8.8k points)
They are not listed, I was the first one to list them on ancestry etc. anyways this is what I went with,


I don't know if I like that because I feel like it singles out a tribe ...

Yes I see what you are saying.  I'm not sure Blackfeet belongs in the 'Last Name at Birth' field.  It is their Nation more than their name.   It fits better when you don't know someone's NA name.  For example you have Mary [maiden name unknown] so you enter her as Mary Blackfeet in the tree.   In this case you have the NA name though.   

You could put Blackfeet in the biography section instead and add the Blackfeet Nation logo for the photo.  

I will add there logo or flag. The other thing would be the women have a birth name and the. When there married there given another name. Like Sits Besides Me Wife, I haven't found her birth name, let alone all of Lone Walkers wives, he has 16 in 2 tepees and a 3rd teepee for IN Laws.  His children it's hard to figure out there mother because in the history books I have read so far it will mention wife and that's it or mother but rarely the mothers name.
+14 votes
The standard for naming Native Americans is to use their tribe name as the LNAB. For example, Cherokee, Shawnee, Powhatan (main name from Chief Powhatan lineage aka Pocahontas), Cornstalk is a main name, Moytoy is a main name.

For first names the Native American name goes first, then the English name in either the preferred or nickname field.
by Living McQueen G2G6 (8.3k points)
edited by Maggie N.
Using a Nation as a last name is not a good standard in my opinion.   You don't label people Joe German or Joe American why would you name them Joe Powhatan?    It is fine if you don't have a name to put that in.  But if you do have a name why would you include that?   Why assume that a name in the original language is just a first name and not a full name?   If you really want to track family relationships it is by clan not by Nation.    You don't marry someone from the same clan - it's a system that functions something like European surnames.
Part of the reason is that of those tribal historians we were able to speak to, they approved of the Tribe name being used when a last name was not available.

Tribe name is also more workable on a site like wikitree rather than clan names for the search function.

I agree that it is good to use when you have just an English first name and no last name.   But beyond that I don't think it is a good standard.  Maybe it is more searchable but it is not more correct. I don't see the problem with including  the clan name - like this profile or for example

Generalizing Native Americans into a single set of rules is problematic.  There can be a lot of difference between Nations. Powhatan vs, Lakota vs, Inuit vs Métis for example.

The Powhatan language has no native speakers so a name in that language would be harder to recognize in searches even though it is more correct.   The Lakota by comparison still have fluent language speakers and the names in Lakota are much more recognizable.   The Inuit speak Inuktitut which has it's own (non-roman) alphabet.    The Métis have the Michif language which is a mix of mostly Cree and French.

Someone can have more than two names.  There is the name in the original language, the translation of the name into English, a 'Christian' name, a married name, and names adopted or given after birth.  There are cases when the same individual has multiple 'Christian' names in the records.  Especially when the purpose of using the name was just to own land.

A lot can be lost in the translation.  The original languages of Turtle Island do not necessarily translate well into English - which is a very simple language.   Sitting Bull for example is not a literal translation of Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotake.  It is something more like 'Buffalo Bull Sits Down' - as in the action of taking a seat, not already sitting.

I think we should specify specifically who the Nations and tribal historians are we are talking about.    Robert K Thomas, Forest Hazel, Maud Carter Clement, and Rick Haithcock are some of the historians I reference in regards to Lumbee, Saponi, Cherokee and Catawba.

The fact is that Native Americans used oral history.  Just the act of entering these names into WikiTree is changing it from oral history to  history.   Not everyone wants that.   This is part of why I think it is hard to standardize.


Paint Clan would be a negative since wikitree functions with one word Last Names. Perhaps someone from the leaders can explain the issue with that. I just know we dont do it.

Bill Deyo tribal historian for the Patawomecks.
Why is Paint Clan a negative?   That could be exactly what someone is searching for, and it provides more detail.  If that profile followed a rule of using a Nation as a last name it would by Oo Loo Tsa Eastern Cherokee.  It's still a compound name and seems less likely that people would be searching by that.  Besides Paint Clan is not a  last name in that profile it's in the name at birth field.

Compound surnames can create indexing and research issues.  But this is not a Native American specific problem.   There are plenty of British Isles, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Dutch names that are more than one word.     For example: Van Der Pool, Van Gogh, Fitz-William, Du Bois, De Trieux, ap Rhys, St Pierre, Le Blanc, etc.  Spanish custom is two surnames -the paternal surname followed by the maternal surname.  Or Portuguese custom which is the maternal surname followed by paternal.  

It would be good to get some input from WikiTree leaders on how search functions with compound names.
Just updating this.  Tribe name is used as LNAB only on those profiles where surnames were not yet used, not on ALL Native American profiles.
+19 votes
Native American identity is much more complex than one would think.  As you mentioned, some tribes gave different names to the same person once they reached a milestone in their life or to celebrate a particular victory. The reason for their name is often as important as the name itself.

It helps to understand the name fields. Whatever the person was called when they were born is their first name and if they did not have a last name then we use the tribe as last name.

Whatever they were called or tended to call themselves during their life goes in the preferred name field.  Some Native Americans were given Christian names. If they used them, that is sometimes what goes there.  Use the first name they used.

Current last name is the same. Use what they would use if they signed their name (if it is during that time period). If a Christian name goes in the preferred name field, then a Christian name typically goes in the current last name field.

What tends to identify Native American profiles is the nickname. This would be what other people call them. It may also be a name they use at some point,  such as Sitting Bull.  Sitting is not a first name nor Bull a last as you already deduced, but this is the nickname. This goes in the nickname field as Sitting Bull.

Word of caution - more than one nickname really makes for a messy name banner so try to stay away from that if possible.

Obviously, this is not a simple method so please explain in the bio.  We often put common extra nicknames right above the bio heading to allow for all of them to be there without clogging up the banner. If they were awarded different names in life, this can go in the bio as you give their history. you can bold them if you like.  If you feel that they need more emphasis, you can list these names above the bio where the nicknames can go.

Please do not forget that in many tribes clan is important. We have some clan badges that assist with matrilineal tribes.  Also, language and culture is a part of their identity. Use of categories helps to define Native American profiles.

Now, for those Native Americans that pre-date records - they are most likely already here. If they are not and you wish to add them, ask yourself is this a person or a legend? If there is no proof they are a person, you may prefer to make a space page. You can link space pages to the project and use categories the same way as with profiles. Contact the project leader for assistance with these older profiles if you decide to add them.

Thank you for your interest in Native American genealogy and your obvious commitment to accuracy!!
by Paula J G2G6 Pilot (286k points)
Hello Paula,

Is it ever appropriate to use the clan name as the last name at birth?
I am pretty sure tribe is better. The "appropriate" thing according to the Native American genealogists I have talked to would be to make software that doesn't force an artificial naming structure on them. But no one thinks this is doable because of the search engines.

I am by no means an expert, although I have learned an awful lot. My communications with different Native Americans and Tribal Consel historians have taught me one thing - they identify with their tribe more strongly than we can comprehend.

The clan is important in that it regulates who you can marry. In matrilineal tribes, the mother's clan determines everything. I have never heard anyone suggest using clan. The naming standards need to be turned into guidelines. This conversation is very helpful in figuring those out.

If you have a reason to use clan or would like to suggest another plan or make any comments, please do that and help us get our guidelines on the help page.

I agree.  The clan name (if you know it) is much closer to what a European last name is.   The fact is, the original clan structures of several Nations are not known. So the information is not there to include, but if it was, it would be very important to include.

Tribal identity is not simple.  There are larger confederacies of Nations, there are multi-tribal identities.   The Haudenosaunee for example are comprised of six Nations.

There is no real standard in Indian Country and there shouldn't be.   Every Nation and Tribe has the right to identify the way they choose.

I think one should look at the purpose of Wiki Tree and the Purpose of the "Name" Fields. (By the way, the current Wiki Tree search engines need a little work because Maria Eligia and Maria Luisa are in no way a possible match - exact dates, locations, and parental info is/was listed for both profiles). 

I am currently working on the Seminole Nation/Tribe. I have already made profiles for two of their leaders that do not have a "surname" or "LNAB".  The first "recorded" leader of the new Seminole Nation was Chief "Ahaya". His "Nickname" or "English name" was Chief Cowkeeper. So, since Wiki Tree uses an "American" (or "Western") Naming system, I applied this system in the following way: On the Internet one can Google Ahaya and the first search result is  Ahaya - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. In the LNAB, I used his English name, Cowkeeper. If one types in Cowkeeper in Google search, the same result comes up. To use the tribe name Seminole would not be correct since Ahaya was from the Oconee (Okone) Tribe (of the Creek Nation) of Georgia. The Seminoles also co-existed and intermarried with other Tribes and people such as Africans, the Yamasee, Appalachicola, Creeks, etc. 

Ahaya's nephew (or son), Payne, became the leader after Cowkeeper's death. I listed his Proper First Name as "King" and his LNAB as Payne. On the Internet and in literature found on the Internet, "Payne" is either listed as "Payne" or "King Payne". I do know that some of the Seminoles used "Payne" as a formal last name and this knowledge helped me to decide how to list "King Payne" on Wiki Tree. (I also did a Wiki Tree Search before I added "King Payne". 

I have the "muster" rolls of when the Seminoles were relocated to Indian Territory and I am in the process of matching people from the muster rolls to United States Census Records to see these Native Americans (and/or descendents) were listed on records before I add them. Some of the Seminoles used their "Band" (or "Clan") name as a formal last name - Bowlegs, Harjo, Payne (pa ya han), Warrior and some used their "position" as a surname. I may/may not have Seminole DNA so I am reading about Clans, Bands, and their social structure. 

I am not quite so sure what to do about the ones that did not make it to Indian Territory - I think for those that were "slaves" I will use their owner's name (or band name) and in the case of Orphans - I will use their tribe name if I cannot find anything else. Of course, listing the naming conventions NA names, English Name, Christian Name, and Nickname info are all listed in the Bio. 

I do agree that there should be a standard - I think the standard should be to use whatever their descendants or history books "know" them as - if not known in history books then their "Clan" or "Band" name should be used. I think the "Tribal Name" should be used as a last resort

I have done what was recommended by someone on G2G a while back and used the name of the tribe as the last name.  Very bad idea.  My tribe is the Crow Tribe of Indians.  So I put Crow down as the last name.  I probably got a lot of Russell Crow's ancestors when I did a Family Search.  I haven't changed it yet, but I will because I have found it totally useless for searching purposes.  I doubt that you will find the name of the tribe on any document as the last name.  I would love to know if you have.
We are using the name of the tribe for Native American who were born before they adopted surnames. Once they began to use surnames, switch to that. This seems to work for the Cherokee profiles that I have worked on.

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