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"American Indian" Names That Don't Have The Meaning They're Supposed To

So, as we explained in our Native American baby name article, a lot of the supposedly Indian names on Internet baby name lists do not have the meaning that is ascribed to them. Where, then, did they come from?

In some cases the name may have a real Indian origin, but has been given a fanciful and thoroughly incorrect 'translation' that somebody thought would appeal to parents (like "princess of the lilies" or "moon angel.") In other cases the names were invented by white authors for works of fiction (especially old Westerns and romance novels) and their fictional meanings have been faithfully repeated as fact by unsuspecting baby name enthusiasts. Some are place names. Sometimes there has been an honest mistranslation--word order is different from English in many Amerindian languages, so an English speaker looking at an Indian phrase may unwittingly pick out a word that means "the" instead of the word that means "flower." Some of these names are deliberate lies, unfortunately, made up from the baby-name-book author's opinion about what sounds "exotic." And the origins of others may never be known--if they once came from an Indian name or word, they have been too corrupted over time to be easily recognized any longer.

We get a lot of questions about the meaning of Native American names found on the Internet, so here is a list of many of them and what (if anything) they really mean. Please note that even if the supposed Native American meaning of a name is false, that doesn't necessarily mean it doesn't have Indian origins at all--it could have just acquired a false 'translation' at some point. There were around 300 Native American languages spoken in North America before Columbus arrived, after all, and only half of these are still spoken today. So it is impossible to say for sure that any name definitely does not have any Indian origins, only that it does not mean what it is claimed to. In practice, though, you can be pretty sure that you have a fake name on your hands if:

1) The word/name comes from a TV show, movie, or novel, and the specific Indian tribe is never mentioned there.
If the name had been researched rather than simply made up, the name of the tribe would be mentioned. If the tribe
is mentioned, the name may still be made up, but at least that will be easy for you to verify with a dictionary.
2) The word/name is supposed to have some sacred or culturally significant meaning, yet you can find no mention of it
anywhere but baby name lists. Religious traditions don't disappear from all memory except for
unsubstantiated lists of neo-Indian baby names circulating around the Internet. Real religious and cultural terms will be
easily found using Google. At the very least, anthropologists took notes.
3) The word/name is supposed to have some long meaning, like "power of the moon" or "she dances lightly through
the forest." Native American words tend to be longer, not shorter, than English words. Some name like "Tala"
is never going to mean "she dances lightly through the forest," and you can take that to the bank. For what it's worth, the
Lakota Sioux name of Kevin Costner's movie character "Dances With Wolves" was Sunkmanitu Tanka Ob Waci, not
Steve. A one or two syllable word is unlikely to have a meaning that includes more than one concept.
4) The name was not in existence in the 1800's, and nobody knows what tribe it comes from. A name's tribal
origins can only be lost to history if the name HAS a history. Even on the Internet, you can get a sense of this. Try googling
"1888 mary born," and see all the genealogical entries for women named Mary born in 1888. Try "1888 latoya born" and it's
pretty obvious that Latoya simply was not used as a name until the 1950's. Apply this little test to the Indian name you're
investigating. If it's a name of more recent coinage, it could still be legitimate, but if it is its tribal origins will not be lost.
If the name is recent in origin and is never identified by anyone more specifically than "Native American" it is probably not for real.

All that said, if you really like the sound of a name you should not reject it just because it does not have Native American origins. If anyone has more information about any of these names and where they came from, please contact us and we'll add it to the site. Serious first-hand information only, please; repeating 'translations' you saw on a fraudulent baby-name website does not qualify.


ADAHY: Baby name books say this name means "he lives in the woods" in Cherokee. This isn't true, but it probably does have Cherokee origins. The word is probably a corruption of the Cherokee word Adohi (pronounced ah-doe-hee), which means "timber" or "woods." If you use this as a name, though, it's a good idea to get the vowels right. "Adahy" sounds a lot like the Cherokee word for "poison," Adahi'i.

AIYANA: Baby name books claim Aiyana means "eternal blossom" or "forever flowering" in Cherokee. This is false. It does not have any meaning in Cherokee that we know of, and as far as we know it's not a traditional Native American name at all (we've never heard of anyone with this name born before about 1970.) Probably Aiyana is really just a spelling variant of Ayanna, which is an African-American and Jamaican name that's been used for at least 50 years. Ayanna is said to come from an Amharic (Ethiopian) word for a flower or blossom; we're not familiar enough with African languages to verify that, but it seems like a likely source of this name to us. (One person has emailed us to say Ayanna is a man's name in Ethiopia, but of course, many originally masculine names are today used as women's names, particularly in America.) There's also a Hindi name "Ayana" which may have contributed to the error--Hindi names are frequently mistaken for Native American names by baby book authors because they are simply identified as "Indian."

ALAWA: Several websites claim that this name means "pea" in the Algonquin language. This is false; the Algonquin word for "pea" is "anidjìmin." It's likely that "Alawa" is actually a corruption of the word for "pea" in a different Native American language, Mi'kmaq (which is related to Algonquin, although no more closely than Russian is to English.) The original Mi'kmaq word for pea is "alawey," pronounced ah-lah-way.

ANGENI: This name is widely said to mean "spirit angel" in some unspecified Native American language. That isn't exactly accurate. What it actually is the word "angel" itself, borrowed into one of the many Native American languages that does not have a letter L (such as the Potawatomi word azhe'ni or the Ojibwe word aanzhenii.) It's only a "Native American word" in the same sense that moccasin is now an "English word." Of course, you may still like to use it as a name, but be aware that it's not a traditional Native American name or a traditional Native American concept, and that it had no meaning before European colonization.

AYITA: This one is supposed to mean "first dancer" or "first to dance" in Cherokee. This is false. It has no meaning in Cherokee that we know of. It's possible that it has an origin in a Native American language other than Cherokee, but it definitely is not a traditional name, and we don't know of any Native American language in which it means "first" or "dancer," much less both together. This is a recent name (we've never heard of anyone named this born before the 70's). Ayita is apparently the name of a kind of Nigerian dance, and this may be another case of an African name being mistaken for a Native American name by white writers.

CHAKOTAY: This is not a real Native American name. It is the name of a character on the science fiction show "Star Trek: Voyager." The actor who plays Chakotay is of Mayan descent, but the character is from a fictional tribe called the Anurabi and his name means something like "Man Who Walks the Earth But Who Only Sees the Sky" in that language. But of course, it's not a real Native American language. It's a Star Trek language, like Klingon.

CHENOA: Baby name books claim that it means "white dove," "mourning dove" or "dove of peace" in Cherokee. This is false. As far as we know it does not have any meaning in Cherokee, nor is it a traditional name at all. There is a town in Illinois called Chenoa, which is probably the source of the name. The origin of the town's name is not clear either. Local history suggests Chenoa may have been named after a town in Kentucky, where the town's founder came from. In that case, the original Kentucky town might well have had a Cherokee name. However, what that original name might have been has been lost to time. It probably did not have anything to do with doves. The Cherokee word for "dove" is woya, "mourning dove" is guledisgonihi, and "white dove" is unega woya.

CHEVEYO: Baby name books claim that this name means "spirit warrior" in Hopi. "Cheveyo" is, in fact, the name of a Hopi mythological figure. But I wouldn't advise giving this name to a child. Cheveyo (spelled Tseeveyo in Hopi) is a kind of monster--a terrible ogre who comes to get Hopi children if they're bad!

CHOCHOKPI: This is probably the single name that has mystified us the most. Apparently people are going around saying that it means "throne of heaven" or "throne of the clouds" in Hopi. Actually, it means a step down or a stepstool. How the meaning got corrupted that much, I couldn't even begin to guess.

CHOGAN: Baby name books claim that this one means "blackbird" in Algonquin. This is false; the Algonquin word for 'blackbird' is Ishkwakodjekoj. The source of this translation is probably actually the Narragansett language--Roger Williams recorded the word "chógan" as a Narragansett word meaning "black-bird" in 1643. There's no record of it ever having been used as a name, though, and we're mystified as to how it got misattributed to the Algonquin language--neither the word Algonquin nor the confusing term "Algonquian" is used anywhere in Roger Williams' book. Someone must have resurrected this word for the name of a fictional character in recent years and misunderstood its source.

DAKOTA: Baby name books claim that this is a Sioux name meaning "friend," but it is not. It is the name of a Sioux tribe, and no one within the tribe is called "Dakota" for their first name, as this is not culturally appropriate. It also does not mean "friend." It is a plural noun meaning "the allies." Naming your child this would be like naming him or her "Frenchmen."

ENOLA: Some sources on the Internet claim that this is a Native American name meaning "solitary." Someone must have pulled one over on them at some point, because it's an English name meaning "solitary." Look at it closely... it's the word "alone" spelled backwards. :-) It was invented as the name of the heroine of an old romance novel, and real-life Enolas, like Enola Gay, were named after the fictional heroine.

HAKAN: Some baby name books identify this as a Native American name meaning "fire." Others identify it as a Norse name meaning "noble." Though I'm not familiar with Norse languages, the second origin seems much more plausible to me, because an actual etymology is known and also because the current Crown Prince of Norway is named Haakon. On the other hand, there's no mention anywhere in history of a Native American man named Hakan and no one even seems to know which tribe the word might theoretically have come from (compare that to the European etymology, where the baby name book writers not only know that the word is Scandinavian in origin but that it is specifically an Icelandic variant of an Old Norse name!)

HATEYA: This name is said to mean "footprints in the sand" in Miwok. That is an embellishment, but it really does come from a Miwok word, ha·t'ej, which means "press with the foot" or "make tracks." Perhaps the name Hateya was shortened and anglicized from a two-word Miwok name that did originally mean "makes footprints in the sand."

HINTO: Baby name books say that this name means "blue" in Dakota Sioux. Actually, it means "blue hair." If you've got a blue roan horse or something, it might be a good name for it. For a child, it would be rather odd.

HONOVI: This one is claimed to mean "strong" or "strong deer" in Hopi. Probably this originally came from a typo. Hopi for "strong" is "hongvi," and some baby book author who knows nothing about the language probably misread the 'g' as an 'o' at some point. The "deer" part is just an Anglo embellishment.

HOTAH: Baby name books say this word means "white" in Sioux. It does not. It means "gray" or "brown."

JACY (or JACI or JACIE): This name is said to mean "moon" in Blackfoot or in a generic Native American language. It certainly does not mean anything in Blackfoot, which doesn't even have a "J" sound ("moon" is ko'komíki'somm in Blackfoot, if you were curious.) Jacy is a popular name in Westerns and Western romances (where it is used by both Indian and white characters, both men and women), and it was probably invented as a creative variant of "Jesse/Jessie," which is a popular men and women's name in the American West. As for the meaning ascribed to it, this may have come from the South American language Guarani, where jasy (pronounced similar to yah-sih) means "moon." It's doubtful that the American name itself came from this language, since it is pronounced completely differently (the American name is pronounced jay-see) and since the Guarani people, who live in Paraguay and Argentina, have never had any connection whatsoever to the Wild West where the name originated. Most likely this meaning was ascribed to the name later, by a baby book author who was in search of any plausible meaning rather than the true origins of the name; it's also possible that the Guarani word "Jasy" and the Western American name "Jessy" were combined into the name "Jacy" by some particular Western author looking for an original name for a hero or heroine, and due to its similarity to the popular English name, it stuck.

KACHINA: Baby name books frequently claim this name means "sacred dancer." In fact, it is the name of a specific kind of Hopi mythological figure. It is true that there is a kind of traditional dance called the kachina dance, but that is a ceremony related to calling the mythological figures in question. Kachina never refers to a dancer in Hopi, nor is it ever used as anyone's name.

KASA: Baby name books claim this name means "dressed in furs" or "fur-clad" in Hopi. This is probably a mistranslation of the Hopi word kwasa, which means a dress or skirt. Traditional Hopi dresses are woven, not made of fur, so it's unclear why this mistranslation came about. The Hopi word for furs or pelts is puuvukya.

KATET: Baby name books claim this name means "fate" or "joined by destiny" in an unspecified Native American language. In fact, the word has the meaning "a group joined by destiny" in a series of fantasy adventure novels written by author Stephen King. King has stated that he invented this word himself.

KAYA: Baby name books claim this name means "little sister" or "elder sister" in Hopi. This is false. There is no word like this in Hopi, and I suspect this fraudulent name was intentionally made up because of the popularity of a Native American character named Kaya in the "American Girl" series of children's literature. In that book, the real name of the girl in the story was Kaya'aton'my', which means "one who arranges rocks" in Nez Perce. Kaya'aton'my' truly is a real Nez Perce word--the authors did their research! In real life, of course, a Nez Perce girl would never have called herself a nickname that was the first two syllables of her name, but since the target audience of young girls would never be able to remember and read a five syllable name all the time, I can sympathize with the authors' decision.

KEME: Several online sources claim that this name means "thunder" in Algonquin. It does not. I believe this misconception traces back to a typo: one popular baby name site accidentally printed two names, one translated as "secret" and one translated as "thunder," or the same line, and many other sites seem to have mindlessly repeated this error or just reported "Keme" as meaning "thunder." In fact, Keme is the one that means "secret" (it comes from the Algonquin word Kiim, which rhymes with "seem.")

KOTORI: This is supposed to mean "owl" or "screech owl spirit" in Hopi. Clearly some baby book author made a typo at some point and no one bothered to check it before repeating it, because the Hopi word for screech owl is tokori, not kotori.

LAKOTA: Baby name books claim that this is a Sioux name meaning "friend," but it is not. It is the name of a Sioux tribe, and no one within the tribe is called "Lakota" for their first name, as this is not culturally appropriate. It also does not mean "friend." It is a plural noun meaning "the allies." Naming your child this would be like naming him or her "Frenchmen."

MACAWI: Online sources claim this is a Sioux name meaning "generous." Actually, it means "female coyote." Coyotes aren't exactly known for their generosity in Sioux culture, so I'm not sure where that mix-up in translation could have occurred.

MAHALA: This name is usually said to mean "woman" in an unspecified Native American language, or sometimes a more fanciful meaning like "eyes of the sky" or "tender fawn." Those translations come from 19th-century romance novels and are fictional; however, Mahala does have at least two distinct Native American sources. One is that "mahala" (pronounced mah-hah-lah) was a slang word for an Indian woman in 1800's California. It came from a Mission Indian mispronunciation of the Spanish word "mujer" (which means woman.) As far as we know no Indian women have this name, but it is used in some place names in California, and "mahala mat" is another name for the plant also known as "squaw carpet." This is probably where the idea that Mahala means "woman" came from. It is less derogatory than the word "squaw," but is not really a native word. The second source of this name is the woman's name Mahala (pronounced mah-hey-lah) or Mahaley, which was fairly common among the southeastern Indian tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, etc.) during the 1800's. Unfortunately the origin of this name isn't clear; the word "mahala" does not have any meaning in any Indian language of the southeast. It may have been one of many Indian variants on the name Mary, or possibly a variant of Michaela. Or it could have been a corrupted or shortened form of a longer Indian woman's name or names. In the Tutelo and Saponi languages (two closely related southeastern Indian languages that are extinct today), the word for "woman" was "mahei," so it's possible that a name or set of names including the word "mahei" got corrupted into Mahala at some point in time. Or it's also possible that the name might have had African origins (many of the southeastern Indian tribes, especially the Saponi, were known for taking in African-Americans.)

MARIAH: Baby name books claim that this name means "wind" in some unspecified Native American language . This is theoretically possible, as there are many different languages and we do not know the word for "wind" in all of them. However, the source of this idea is almost certainly a Kingston Trio song from the 1950's, "They Call The Wind Mariah," in which the rain, wind and fire have the first names Tess, Mariah, and Joe. There are no Indians in the song; Tess and Joe are not Indian names and do not mean rain or fire, so in all likelihood Mariah is not an Indian name and does not literally mean wind either. It's probably one of many American variants of the name Mary or Maria.

MEDA: This one is supposed to mean "priestess" or "prophetess" or "princess" in some unspecified Native American language. This is too generic a claim to entirely disprove (there are hundreds of Amerindian languages, and we cannot be sure that the name does not resemble a word meaning some kind of woman in one of them.) The combination of the non-Indian word "priestess" with the lack of a tribal identification makes me extremely skeptical of this, however. Meda doesn't mean a medicine woman or any other kind of woman in any language we're familiar with, and it is also completely absent from the anthropological literature (unlikely if it was a real religious term.) Meda is a Hindu family name used in India, which may be the source of this rumor; Hindu names are frequently incorrectly identified as Native American by baby book authors because they only hear that the name is "Indian." The Hindu name means "good house," though, which doesn't have anything to do with women or magic. More likely this name is a corruption of Medea, which was the name of a well-known witch-priestess of Greek mythology (who also happened to be a princess.)

MIAKODA: I've only encountered this one online, where people claim it means "power of the moon" in either Navajo or some unspecified Native American language. It definitely isn't a Navajo word, and none of us knows any other language in which a word sounding like this has anything to do with magic or the moon either. I've never heard of any person or animal named 'Miakoda' before about 1995. It's possible that the source of this name was an obscure 1990's series of science fiction books by an author named Jane Fancher, where the moon orbiting a silly pseudo-Native-American planet was named Miakoda; whether the author made this name up for her book or found it while surfing the same Internet lists that exist today, I do not know. Either way, it is almost certainly not an authentic name.

MIKA: Baby name books claim this name means "wise little raccoon" or "intelligent raccoon." This is an embellishment, but the word really does mean "raccoon" in both the Osage and Omaha-Ponca languages (they are related to each other, like Spanish and Italian, and share some vocabulary.)

MOJAG: A few online sources claim this name means "never silent" in an unspecified Native American language. The source of this name is probably the Ojibway word moozhag, which is sometimes spelled moojag or mòjag. What it means, though, is "always." Perhaps this was a mistranslation of the first part of a longer Ojibway name that meant "always talking" or "always cries."

NADIE: Baby name books claim that this name means "wise" in Algonquin. This is false. None of us has any idea where this rumor could even have gotten started. It's likely that Nadie was actually a nickname for the name Nadine, which has French and Russian origins. But a sharp-eyed reader points out that this is also the spelling for the Spanish word for "nobody," so it's possible this could have originally been a symbolic name for a fictional heroine, like "Enola."

NAHIMANA: This one is supposed to be a Sioux name meaning "mystical." Probably this is a slight mistranslation of the Dakota Sioux word Nahmana, which means "secret," not in a mystical way, but in a sly or covert way, like a spy.

NAYATI: Baby name books claim that this name means "wrestler" or "he who wrestles" in an unspecified Native American language. This is possible, but it's nothing we've heard of before and no one but baby books seems to mention the word in a Native American context at all. The more likely source of this name is the Sanskrit word Nayati, which means "leader," or possibly the Sanskrit word Nahyati, which means "binds" and is used in yoga. Hindi and Sanskrit names are frequently mistaken for Native American names by baby book authors because they are identified as "Indian."

NIDAWI: Baby name books claim that this name means "fairy" in the Omaha language. According to an Omaha friend, nidawį actually means "elephant woman." In the past, this name probably had a more dignified sense to it--anthropologist Alice Fletcher said it referred to a "mysterious or fabulous being," and Osage scholar Francis LaFlesche wrote that the Osage used the same word, nida (without the feminine ending -wį), to refer to giant bones they found in the riverbanks. Despite the higher cachet of that story, I'm still not sure a modern girl would be pleased at being named "mammoth woman" or "giant creature woman." There really are sprite or fairy-like beings in the folktales of the Siouan tribes, but nidawį is not one of them. Whatever real or mythological creature nida originally referred to, it was definitely something known for being enormous.

NITIKA: Baby name books claim that this one means "angel of precious stone" in some unspecified Native American language. It is possible that this name has Native American origins, but we don't know what they are, and it certainly does NOT mean "angel of precious stone." It is also possible that Nitika is a Hindi or Sanskrit name, since there seem to be a lot of women with this name in India. Hindi and Sanskrit names are frequently mistaken for Native American names by baby book authors because they are identified as "Indian."

NOOTAU: This one is supposed to mean "fire" in Algonquin. It doesn't mean anything in Algonquin; the Algonquin word for "fire" is "ishkode." The actual source of this name is probably a Natick (Wampanoag) wordlist from the 1800's.

NOVA: Baby name lists claim that this name means "she chases butterflies" in Hopi. This is false. Nova means "food" in Hopi. Perhaps this was a mistranslation of the Hopi word for "chase," ngöyva. (It's pronounced similar to ing-uyr-vah, but it looks a little like "nova," I guess.) There's certainly nothing about butterflies in it.

ONATAH: This one is supposed to be an Iroquois man's name meaning "of the earth." Actually, it is the name of an Iroquois corn goddess. Perhaps more of a legendary mythological figure than a goddess... but unquestionably, importantly female. She's a fertility goddess. Please spare your sons some future embarassment and choose a different name for them!

ORENDA: Baby name books claim that this name means "magickal," "magic power," or "tribal soul on the right path" in an Iroquois language. This is a serious mistranslation. Orenda really does come from an Iroquois religious term, but it is more commonly translated as "Great Spirit," "divine essence," "Holy Spirit," or simply "God." It strikes me as a spectacularly egotistic thing to name your child, but now that you know what it really means, you can make your own decision about that.

ROWTAG: This one is supposed to mean "fire" in Algonquin. It doesn't mean anything in Algonquin; the Algonquin word for "fire" is "ishkode." The source of this name is probably a catechism translated by an English-speaking missionary into the Quiripi language of Connecticut in the 1650's. This missionary used "rowtag" as a translation for the fires of Hell.

SAKARI: Baby name books claim that this name means "sweet" in Eskimo (Inuktitut) or in some unspecified Native American language. This is very doubtful. It's not a traditional Inuit or Native American name, and it doesn't mean "sweet" in any indigenous American language we're aware of. On the other hand, words like this DO mean "sweet" or "sugar" in Indo-European languages. (The Latin word for "sugar" is saccharum, Sanskrit is sarkara, and of course there is the English word saccharine.) Most likely this is a Hindi or Sanskrit name (such names are frequently mistaken for Native American names by baby book authors because they are identified as "Indian.") It might also be Greek. It's also possible that this is a word that has been borrowed into Inuktitut from English to refer to coffee sweetener.

SATINKA: This name is said to mean "magic dancer" or "sacred dancer" in an unspecified Native American language. This is almost certainly false, because if did, the term would surely be mentioned in tribal history or anthropological literature (or anywhere at all prior to 1990, for that matter.) It's possible that it does mean "dancer" or "dance" in a Native American language we're not familiar with, but given that it's not a traditional name and is of very recent origin, it's more likely that it was inspired by the Russian name Katinka.

SHYSIE: This one doesn't even make the baby name books; I have only ever seen it on the Internet, where it is claimed to be a girl's name meaning "quiet little one" in some unspecified Native American language. Almost certainly it was invented by combining the common name Susie with the English word "shy."

SIPALA: This error is an amusing one. Websites claim it means "peace" in Hopi. Actually it means "peach." Someone must have either misunderstood something a Hopi speaker told them, or read the wrong line in a Hopi dictionary.

SVAHA: Baby name books claim this name means "the time between seeing the lightning and hearing the thunder" in some unspecified American Indian language. In fact, it is the name of a science fiction book by Charles de Lint about Native Americans in an alternate universe, where it has this fanciful meaning. It does not come from a real Native American language. More recently, some people online have been claiming that the word "svaha" actually means "the time between seeing the lightning and hearing the thunder" in Icelandic, which is at least a little more plausible than the Native American story given that the sound "sv" exists in Scandinavian languages and not in Native American languages. Unfortunately, according to a Icelandic source, this is also false. The closest Icelandic word to this is Svaetha, which means "area." There is also a Sanskrit word Svāhā whch means "hail" or "amen," and a Russian word Svaxa (the Russian x is pronounced as a raspy h) which means a woman who arranges marriages. But since none of those words have anything to do with lightning or thunder, it's doubtful that Charles de Lint was referring to any of them when he wrote his book. He almost certainly invented the word "svaha" himself to fit his story.

TAHNEE MARA: Baby name books claim this name means "lonesome wind" in some unspecified American Indian language, or that Tahnee by itself means "wind" or "longing" or "desire." This comes from the John Wayne movie "Chisum," where the script says Tahnee Mara means "lonely wind." In those days they didn't really go around and find a speaker of a Native American language to help them make movies the way they did with "Windtalkers" or "Dances With Wolves," the writers usually just made up names and phrases on their own. As far as we know this was what happened here. Certainly the phrase does not mean "lonesome wind" in Comanche or Apache, the two Indian tribes that the movie was about.

TAIMA: Baby name books claim this name means "loud thunder" or "clap of thunder" in Blackfoot or Navajo, or in some unspecified Native American language. It certainly does not have this meaning in Blackfoot or Navajo, and we are unaware of any other Native American language in which it does. However, there was a historical figure from the Meskwaki Indian tribe whose name in English was spelled Chief Tama or Chief Taimah (shortened from his Meskwaki name, Te:wame:ha.) Although this is not the Meskwaki word for "thunder" (which is nenemehki), Chief Tama did belong to the Thunder Clan, so perhaps he is the origin of this name. Another possibility is that Wikipedia claims the word "taima" means "crash of thunder" in the Icelandic language (a Germanic language related to Norwegian.)

TALA: Baby name books claim this means "princess of wolves" or "stalking wolf" in Cherokee. This is false. There isn't any word "Tala" in Cherokee, there isn't any word for "princess" in Cherokee ("Cherokee princess" is a white myth), and the word for "wolf" is "Wahya" in Cherokee. Furthermore, it's highly unlikely that a simple word like "Tala" means "princess of wolves" in ANY language, but particularly an American Indian language, where words tend to be longer, not shorter, than English ones. It's possible that the word means "wolf" in some American Indian language other than Cherokee, and the rest is an embellishment. More likely, Tala was the name of a Cherokee heroine in a Western or romance novel, and her name was given a completely fictional meaning like "princess of wolves" in the story.

TAMSYN: Some baby name lists claim that this is an American Indian name. Not so; it is just a respelling of the English name Tamsin, which itself comes from the even older name Thomasin, used by women in England as far back as the early 1800's.

TANSY: This name is said to be a Native American name for a flower, but actually it is a European name for a flower. The tansy plant didn't even exist in North America until Europeans brought it over. Its name comes from the Old French word Tanesie.

TAREVA-CHINE (or TAREVA-SHANAY): We've been asked about this name twice now, and been left scratching our heads. It is said to mean "beautiful eyes" in some unspecified Native American language. Unlike many "Native American" names on the Internet, this one doesn't sound obviously fake to me--it is the right length and has consistent sounds. However, the name is also recent (surfacing in the 1990's), appears only on baby name lists, and no one seems to have any idea which tribe it came from. (One fellow suggested it was Chinook, but this is definitely false.) It's possible that somebody recently discovered this name in their family tree and decided to popularize it, or it's possible that it was invented by a literary-minded non-native person. If anyone has more information about the origins of this name, we'd be interested in hearing it.

TEHYA: This name may well have real Native American origins, but if so we have no idea what they are. All we know for sure is that it does not mean what it is rumored to, namely "precious" in Cherokee. It doesn't mean anything at all in Cherokee, in fact. I don't have any guesses as to where this name actually did come from, though. Perhaps it is a name from a different Native American language and was mislabeled at some point; perhaps it was the (invented) name of an Indian heroine in a popular novel or movie; or perhaps it is just a variant of the name Taya.

TIPONI: This is said to be a girl's name meaning "special child" or "child of importance" in Hopi. This is not exactly an accurate representation of the word. Tiponi truly is a Hopi word, but actually refers to a Hopi ceremonial religious object. A better literal translation might be "figurine of authority." It does not refer to a literal child, but to a ceremonial figurine that symbolizes the religious authority of the person who is carrying it. It is not a traditional girl's name in Hopi and is not used to refer to anyone's daughter.

WEEKO: Some Internet sources claim this word means "pretty" in Dakota or Lakota Sioux. It emphatically does not. It is a slang form of wikoska and it means "venereal disease." I can only hope this 'name' was made up by some writer of Western romance novels who had no idea what it really means.


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