The Story of Indian Names

Posted By BrokenClaw on January 7, 2007

When researching Indian names, it’s important to realize that a name may be spelled in different ways, depending on who recorded it and how they heard it pronounced. Also, individuals usually changed their name throughout their life. Anyone who’s ever studied a foreign language knows that other languages contain sounds and inflections that are absent from modern English. The same is especially true for native American languages.

Early records of names were written down syllable by syllable, using the common English spelling fragments of the day, without regard to the actual division of meaning within the name. For example, the third President of the United States might have been named Tah-Miss-Jeh-Fur-Sin or Dom-Iz-Cheff-Er-Sun. Linguists use phonetic spellings which more accurately reproduce the original inflections. The following principles apply specifically to the Chiwere language of the Otoe-Missouria tribe, but they can be applied generally to other tribes as well.

Indian Names

Using Good Track’s dictionary, and knowing the English equivalent name, I can make the following analyses. In the case of Charles Dailey, his name Little Smoke is a direct translation, commonly spelled So-jay (smoke) with the diminutive suffix -Inga (little), phonetically spelled so’je-inge. Later he was known as Chief Goodways: Wa-Ya-Gay-He (chief) plus Wo-Ska-Pe (good or kind ways), phonetically spelled wan’nye-gi-hi-wo’sgan-pi. Other short names can be translated directly as well. White Horse comes from Shun-ge (horse) plus the color Thka (white) to be Shun-ga-Thka.

Native Americans had no original word for horse, since equines (horses, donkeys, etc.) were completely unknown species on the American continent until the Spaniards brought them from Europe in the 1500s. In Chiwere, the word for horse is actually a derivation of the word for dog. This same relationship in the Lakota language was explained by the character of Frank Hopkins in the 2004 film, Hidalgo.

Incidentally, Charles Dailey had a dog named Hindanthka (white owl). A family story relates that his nephew, Truman Dailey, liked the name so much that he wanted to have that same name.

Charles and George Dailey‘s father was known only as Paw-Nee-Coo-Gee, or pani-ku’je, which translates literally as Pawnee Shooter, a name he earned in battle by shooting a Pawnee enemy. Cecile Dailey was called Oh-Rah-Soo-Cha-Me, Red Flower, which comes from u’xra (flower or blossom) plus su’je (red) with the feminine suffix -mi, to make u’xra-su’je-mi. This was, in fact, the name of Charles Harper’s mother, spelled O-cra-soo-ja-mi, later known as Rosa. Charles and George Dailey’s mother was known only as Hoo-Gra-Do-Wa-Me. Unfortunately, I have found no documented translation of her name. However, Dorsey’s 1880 census of the tribe lists a man named Hoo-Cra-To-Wa, probably hu’kre-do’we, which is translated as Four Posts, referring to the corner posts of a dwelling to signify strength, so it is my conclusion that her name was the feminine form of the same name.

English Surnames

By the turn of the 20th century, most native Americans had English names for the purpose of government records. They acquired their names in several different ways. Some families took the Indian name of the father, standardized the spelling, and used it as their surname, such as the Arkeketa, Gawhega, Homeratha, and Shunatona families. The unique character of these names is apparent to this day. Internet search results for any of those four names will undoubtedly refer to descendants of those individuals.

Others took the English equivalent name of the father and used it as their surname, such as the Pipestem and the Littlecrow families.

It’s commonly known that Indian school children were often assigned simple English names, sometimes as impersonally as alphabetical order. The same was true of adults. William Green, an Ioway who married an Otoe woman, had chosen the name Green, although his father had chosen Grant. Later, to be consistent, he changed his name to Grant. As a result, some of his children were named Green, and some of his children were named Grant.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that many native Americans simply adopted the full name of a person they knew, such as a government agent or a school teacher. And when parents used this practice to name their children, they ended up with siblings who had different surnames. In the case of the Otoe-Missouria, it wasn’t until around 1900, that the practice of all children using the surname of their father was universally followed.

Gro-gaw, later known as James Jones, was enumerated on the tribal census of 1888 as “J. Roe Young,” on the 1889 census as “Jim Powell,” and on the 1890 census as “James P. Jones”.

Some surnames were introduced when a native woman took a white husband, or at least bore children of a white man, thus perpetuating his name among the tribe. Two such names in the Otoe-Missouria and Ioway tribes are DeRoin and Robedeaux, both French names with various spellings. The Robedeauxs trace their lineage to the Robidoux family, who were French fur traders, and often specifically cite Joseph Robidoux III, the founder of St. Joseph, Missouri, who ventured into the territory in the early part of the 1800s. In addition to his French wives in St. Louis, it’s known that he fathered numerous offspring with various Otoe and Ioway women. One of his contemporaries, the frontier artist Rudolph Kurz, wrote that Joseph had “60 papooses” — certainly an exaggeration, but indicative of his prolific philandering. Nevertheless, the myriad of descendants bearing the surname suggests that his uncles, brothers, and nephews contributed native progeny as well.

The Dailey Name

Other Otoe-Missouria families seemed to acquire a surname quite randomly. Our family name originated sometime around 1890. Dewey Dailey’s paternal uncle, Wo’jin-Xan’je, was nicknamed George Washington by the school superintendent at Chilocco School in Indian Territory, when he volunteered to trudge through a heavy snow to pick up the school’s mail. His younger brother then took the name Charles Washington. He used that name when he registered at Hampton Institute in 1889. At some point, they decided to take a common family name along with their orphan cousins.

The reason why they chose Daily is unknown. There was a white man, William Daily, who had served as the Otoe-Missouria Agent from 1864 to 1866, and it was not uncommon for Indians to adopt a surname in that manner, but we do not know if that was the case with the Dailys. The precise relationship between the brothers (George and Charles) and their cousins (James, Mary, Lee, and Lena) is unknown, but, since they decided to share a surname, it’s reasonable to assume that their fathers were brothers in some sense of the word. The tribal census of 1897 shows that the latter siblings were already using the Daily surname at that time. By 1899, George and Charles adopted it as well, making Washington their middle name.

The spelling was changed to Dailey shortly thereafter. In any event, all of the current Daileys are descended from those six individuals. The Dailey ancestors were originally of the Missouria tribe, but the two tribes, Otoe and Missouria, had already reunited generations earlier. The Daileys are part of the Eagle Clan. It is unclear if all Eagle Clan was Missouria. Clan lineage followed through the father. Charles Dailey’s first wife, Belle Robedeaux, was Otoe, although her grandfather was one of the Robedeaux mentioned above. The complete genealogy of the Robedeaux family will probably never be fully elucidated, because even documents of the day often confused the nephews and cousins who shared the same first names, or who purposely impersonated each other. [For a full discussion of the Robidoux family, see the linked Joseph Robidoux article in the section above.] In blood quanta, then, Belle was 3/4 Otoe and Charles was 1/2 Missouria and 1/2 Otoe, which is why their son, Dewey Washington Dailey, is designated as 7/8 Otoe-Missouria. Since neither he nor any of his children married within the tribe, his grandchildren are 7/32 Otoe-Missouria which is below the minimum 1/4 blood quanta requirement for tribal membership. [In 2009, the tribe ratified a change in their constitution to lower the minimum blood quantum requirement to 1/8th descent. You can read about the change on the Otoe-Missouria News Archive.]


2 Responses to “The Story of Indian Names”

  1. penny Foreman says:

    I was always told that my great grandfather was Choctaw but, I recently discovered documents which show he was Otoe. I located adoption documentation from where his white stepfather changed his name. On these papers his birth name is recorded as E Na To Me. His mother is Gre Che Ma. I’ve been searching for translations for these names as well as trying 2 establish what clan they belonged to. I can not express just how grateful I would be for even a small detail of insite here.

  2. Sandra Whiteowl Paul says:

    I would like to know the Mohawk and/or Penobscot word for White Owl, as that is my heritage and name.

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