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Native American childhood nicknames

Q: My father remembered some indian words from growing up and named my children indian nicknames to celebrate their heritage but he is in his 80's and can't remember which language these are from but said he is pretty sure of there meanings. He learned from his mother years ago but never traced our ancestry and due to problems with being 'Native American' back then never wanted to. He and my mother had to elope because of his Indian heritage. Salali lootah - red squirrel - I'm not sure what language it is in. Chimali Kante - blue bird sings - again I'm not sure what language this is in. If you could help I'd appreciate it. Thank you.

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A: Are you sure your father remembered those phrases from his childhood (as opposed to looking them up later in life)? Because the words come from totally different languages. Saloli means "squirrel" in Cherokee, and Luta means "red" in Lakota Sioux. They're unrelated languages, from tribes separated by thousands of miles... in Cherokee, the adjective should come first in a phrase, and in Lakota, it should come last.

It seems unusual for someone to remember one phrase with words from two different languages in it... if it were me I'd be guessing that he heard the words separately and put them together in his mind during the pan-Indian movement of the 70's, when many people were embracing the languages of multiple tribes, or possibly that he looked them up in a book later on.

It's also possible that he had one Lakota parent and one Cherokee parent, I suppose, and remembered the words separately, then put them together because he thought they were pretty. However, "Chimali," which is said to be a name of Native American origin meaning bluebird, is neither a Lakota nor a Cherokee word. We have no idea what tribe that one came from, if it truly has Native American origins, but it's definitely not either of those two languages. "Kante" is something I've never heard of before; it also is neither Lakota nor Cherokee, and is most likely a word borrowed into a Southwest Indian language from the Spanish "canta" (which does mean "sings.") These two words from unfamiliar languages make it seem all the more likely to me that your father learned them during the pan-Indian period, at intertribal events, or from books.

What part of the country is your father from? If what you're curious about is tracing his tribal origins, you could probably find that out with a little bit of genealogical research. I could at least narrow it down for you if you told me his birthplace or where his parents lived.

Good luck!
Native Languages of the Americas

Related Links

 Native American children's names
 Cherokee language
 Lakota Sioux language
 Native American squirrels
 Native American bird symbolism

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