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American Indian Language Translations: Words for Tattoos, Literature or Art

This is an expansion of our popular Native American Pet Names fundraiser. A lot of people write to us asking for an American Indian translation from English for a tattoo, jewelry inscription, piece of artwork, story they're writing, grandfather's birthday cake, and so forth. In most cases you can make a translation to Indian languages yourself for free if you are willing to spend the time--check out our Amerindian index for a large number of language-related Internet resources including online American Indian-English dictionaries and lists of vocabulary words in Native American languages.

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If you don't care to do this, though--it can take a long time to do Native American translation if you're not familiar with these languages and you don't already know which language you're looking for-- you can ask us and we'll do the translating for you, in exchange for a $10 donation to our nonprofit organization (which will then be used to preserve and promote endangered Indian languages). The list of languages we can currently provide native translations for include Abenaki, Algonquin, Apache, Athabaskan, Bella Coola, Blackfoot, Caddo, Cherokee, Cheyenne, Chipewyan, Chippewa, Choctaw, Comanche, Cree, Creek, Crow, Dakota Sioux, Dene, Delaware, Haida, Hopi, Inuktitut, Lakota, Lenape, Maliseet-Passamaquoddy, Mesquakie, Mohawk, Mojave, Munsee, Muskogee, Navajo, Nez Perce, Nuxalk, Ojibway, Oneida, Osage, Pima, Potawatomi, Salish, Sauk, Seneca, Shawnee, Shoshone, Tohono O'odham, Tlingit, and Yaqui. We may also be able to translate an American Indian word from another language-- contact us first if you have a different language in mind.

Please note that this is only a fun way to raise money for a good cause. We will not give you or anyone else a "spirit name," nor will we bless you, the words, or whatever you are writing them on. These requests are offensive to many Native Americans; please respect our beliefs and do not misrepresent our role in suggesting these translations. They are no different, spiritually speaking, than words you looked up in an English-Indian language dictionary. If you are looking for an American Indian name with spiritual significance, please talk to an elder in your community. No stranger can do this for you over the Internet, any more than you could get baptised over the Internet. Also, if you are planning on getting a tattoo, please be aware that using words as tribal tattoos is a modern practice, not a traditional one in any Indian tribe that we know of. If it is important to you to have a traditional style tattoo, please see Orrin's article on Native American Tattoos to learn more about that difficult quest.

On the other hand, if you are looking for the translation of a word from English into Native American languages for a modern style tattoo or another creative but non-religious endeavor, then please fill out the form below. After you send it you will be prompted to make a $10 donation. If you prefer, you can also write down this information and send it along with cash or a check (made out to Native Languages of the Americas) to our postal address:

Native Languages of the Americas
PO Box 385291
Minneapolis, MN 55438

We will email you three possible Native American words or phrases that match your criteria, along with each word's meaning, language, and pronunciation, and you can pick the translation that appeals to you the most. Please note that some American Indian languages use modified European alphabets, so they may have diacritics (accent marks, or other notations above or below some of the letters). You're welcome to ignore these or even use a simplified spelling that looks better to you if you like. Except for Cherokee, Native North American writing systems originally came from outside the community anyway.

Native American Translations for Tattoos, Stories, and Inscriptions

1. What are you planning to do with this word? (Tattoo yourself, inscribe it in a ring, use it in a short story,
spraypaint it on the walls of Alcatraz? :-D You don't have to answer this if you're providing the word yourself,
but it's hard for us to suggest good native translations to you if we don't know what they're for.)

2. What word are you looking for, or would you prefer we just suggest a few Native American words with positive meanings?
(Note that verbs and abstract nouns are long and complex in many native languages--kinship terms or the
word for a kind of animal that inspires you are usually good bets for a short word for tattoos or artwork.)

3. Do you have a particular language of origin you are interested in, or do you want us to suggest
American Indian translations from several different languages?

4. How concerned are you with the word's length?
(American Indian words tend to be very long in most languages, and it will limit your options if the word
must be a short one.)
Doesn't matter, a long or complicated word is fine
Somewhat important, please give me words no longer than 8 letters
Extremely important, this word needs to fit on an earring or something

5. How concerned are you with being able to pronounce the word easily?
(Some American Indian words have very different sounds than English and it will limit your options if the word
must be easy to pronounce in English.)
Doesn't matter, this word will only be written not spoken
Somewhat important, please give me a word I can learn to pronounce without much trouble
Extremely important, I want readers to be able to figure out how to say this word without my help

6. We will get three suggested translations to you within two weeks after receiving your payment. Is that soon enough?
No, I need the words right away--please ignore my language and meaning preferences if it will get me the translation faster
Yes, two weeks is fine, it's more important for you to follow my preferences as closely as possible

7. Email address you want us to send the Native American word translations to:
Please note this field is necessary. We are not psychics, we can't send you any translations unless you tell us where to send them to!

8. We can accept credit card payments via PayPal, or you can mail us cash or a check. We ask for a $10 donation for our nonprofit work in exchange for the American Indian translation suggestions. (Donations are voluntary and are tax-deductible.) If you don't want to give money, you can put a link to our organization on your website instead, or volunteer to help out with one of our projects.
I will make a credit card/PayPal donation
I will mail you a donation
I will link to your website or volunteer some time
No thanks, I'd rather not do any of those things

Additional American Indian Translation Resources

Here is a list of our specific online resources for finding Indian language words:

Online Picture Dictionaries: The names of various animals translated from Indian languages to English, with pictures.
Comparative Vocabulary Words: Basic vocabulary of Indian languages with English translation.
Indian Pronunciation Guides: Charts showing how to pronounce words in Indian languages.
Counting in Indian Languages: Lists of number words in American Indian languages.
Parts of the Body: English to Native American translation of body part words.

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