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I am currently working on writing a fantasy novel centered around pre-Columbian America, but I am at the moment unsure as to where in America to focus my story. I am considering either the Lakotans or the Mississippians.

So I am trying to scout for websites listing real Native American names and their meanings to help me pinpoint the location of my story as well as the culture for my protagonist. Any suggestions for reliable baby name sites?

I already tried babbel.com, but it doesn't give very accurate meanings, and I've also tried behindthename.com, but it gives a small list with too widespread of a selection instead of letting me more easily find specific tribal names like Lakotan, Ojibwe, or Mississippian names.

  • Since you are writing a fantasy novel, you may choose random names like Hawk Eye or Rabbit Foot or Square Jaw. – Double U Jul 29 '18 at 22:03
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    True, but still am keeping a lookout for actual native american names as they will give me an idea of how to generate my own names like how Frodo is made up but reflective of welsh. Also, hawk eye is taken since it a marvels character. – Alexander Jul 29 '18 at 23:30
  • Have you tried Babynames.com. They have a section on Native American Names, though do keep in mind naming customs are vary between tribes and even sub-clans. Not to mention that a good number of Native American names are unwieldy to an English Speaker. – hszmv Jul 30 '18 at 16:13
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In the book I'm writing, a sibling group among my characters are 1/4 Native American.

I first chose the tribe. Since I knew where they lived (a fictional small town outside a real-life larger town in Arizona), I looked up which modern-day tribes existed and picked the one that seemed most likely.

Next, I looked up the website for the tribe and read through their public documents. It's a small tribe so I also did this for a tribe nearby that it is affiliated with.

I was only looking for English names and surnames, so the public docs had plenty. I also didn't want to choose anything that might turn out to be unique to one person/family who happened to be in the docs. But they gave me a large number of names to choose from.

Next, I researched names I chose to make sure they were common within Native American communities in the US. Obviously, with intermarriage and all, pretty much any name is okay. But I wanted that subtlety that comes with just the right name. Just like my Jewish characters could be named Anthony and Catherine but are instead Joseph and Ruth.

This site is a general one but I found it helpful (after the rest of the research...names vary a lot by both tribe and region).
https://names.mongabay.com/data/indians.html

Your case is different from mine. You want names unadulterated by European contact.

I will urge you to pick your setting and tribe first. If you really can't, then do the research twice. Once for each of your top choices of tribe/location.

Use the historical documents you can find for that tribe. I don't know what is out there written by Americans. For the ones written by Europeans, there will be some that record actual names for the people they interacted with (as opposed to names given to them by the Europeans or nicknames used because they were easier to say). Make a list. Also use docs about tribes that lived close by and were friendly with the tribe you are using (close by doesn't always mean friendly but, if they were, then there would be intermarriage and names would transfer back and forth too).

Lastly, get a sensitivity reader. When you're all done with your research and have the tribe and names of your characters (with some extras), but before you're wedded to them, have an expert read what you've got to make sure it's plausible.

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    This. Bonus points for choosing a tribe first. Pre-colonisation America was a fantastically diverse place (still is really). There are many different cultures and many different languages, all with different naming conventions. Without narrowing down the culture you could well end up with the equivalent of calling a native Spaniard 'Ghengis', which while certainly possible it would sound odd to someone in the know. – Ynneadwraith May 7 at 10:59
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I would strongly suggest contacting historians from (descendants of) the actual groups you are taking inspiration from, and asking them for feedback/suggestions, not just on names but on other aspects of your story.

In today's world, publishers and audiences are increasingly demanding authenticity in the portrayals of real-world cultures, and that requires research, ideally as close to the source as possible.

I recognize that this is a fantasy novel, centered around historical groups, not current ones, but given that the setting is the real world, you owe it to your readers to put the research in (otherwise you should place it in a wholly invented setting that is merely inspired by the real world).

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    I didn't mention this in my post since I was just asking about names, but I am using Waterlily by Ella Deloria(an ethnography by the famed student of Franz Boaz). Also, when I was talking centering my story in pre-columbian america I meant that I am using that time period and peoples as cultural influences for a made-up culture based off of Native Americans not their real life culture. I also am usual other cultural influences too like Nepali culture. Instead of going for a story happening in America I am creating a story similar to that in Avatar: the last airbender with many influences. – Alexander Jul 31 '18 at 5:26
  • Also, my magic system, just to be clear, is way different than in the mentioned cartoon. – Alexander Jul 31 '18 at 5:27
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Decades ago, I came across a book in my University library focused on Native American Ethnography. I can't recall the name, but it had a section for each (major?) tribe and there was a section for a variety of topics, comparing how habits changed.

One thing I remember was names: they were fluid and identified the self rather than the body (I hope I'm being clear). Nowadays, a person is given a name at birth who identifies that person through life. Most native cultures would name a baby, but that name could (and should) change as the person grew. For the sake of an example (and I'm making these examples up), a baby boy could be named 'Precious Blue Eyes', but then, as child, he might be the fastest runner amidst the other children and become Fast Feet. Later, as he became a man, he might take on or receive a third name and so on. I remember that a person might have one or two names in their lives or over six names.

Obviously, it also depended on the culture, but the names should reflect who the person was (character, distinctive physical attribute, social function, etc) and, when a person matured, they would naturally grow into a new name. Also, every name had a clear meaning whether it was literal (like Blue Eyes), ironic (like Fast Feet for a slow person), or metaphorical (like Sharp Eyes meaning they could see the future). Something akin to modern day Autumn (whose meaning everyone recognises) vs. Richard (whose meaning is lost in time even because it comes from a 'foreign' language).

Some more food for thought, some tribes in South America have specific guidelines for names: within one tribe, there can never be two people with the same name, for example. And there was one tribe where children receive(d) a true name that only the child and the parents know and an everyday name which everyone knows. Not knowing the child/person's true name would protect their soul/spirit/?? from danger.

I'm giving examples of things I've read through the years, but I hope I'm passing along the message that there is a wealth of traditions. I strongly advise you to look for specific information in ethnographic studies.

  • How do you remember this so fluently, if you don’t mind me asking? – Edmund Frost Aug 2 '18 at 15:58
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    It had a great impact on me at the time. I've had a fascination for naming practices for quite some time. Being a writer gives me the perfect excuse to dwell on the topic (I develop my own name generators; I've got several, depending on time period, country, fantasy, ...). Names changing through a person's life makes particular sense to me, so that point really hit home. The one about not sharing one's true name harkens back to the idea of the power of the word: to know the real name of a thing is to have power over it (an idea Christianity is close to, curiously), only applied to people. – Sara Costa Aug 2 '18 at 16:30
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A quick Google search have me this generator which is part of a larger group of name generators. I can't speak to it's quality, but the page identifies how Native American names differ from Western names, and distinguishes between names sourced from different tribes, so it seems promising.

You would have to source the name meanings separately, but once you have a name, Google makes that easy.

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This website lists names and possibly more importantly for you gives some information about the structure of names broken down by nation for a few of the big players.

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Something a lot of people forget is how many Native American languages there are. It's not like there was one language shared between tribes or even subsets of tribes, and certainly not a single naming convention.

The Cherokees, for example, speak and write in syllabry (akin to the Japanese Hiragana system) whereas Kiowa use modifiable phonics much like English.

When even the bare basics of sounds regularly used and how it's written down can change between tribes, one can imagine the sheer possibilities one has when naming a nebulous 'Native American'.

The possibilities are literally endless; I'd say try your own thing, exploit fantasy for all its worth instead of relying on stereotypes (like Sitting Bull). Alternatively, narrow down the particular tribe, culture, etc, and research the heck out of them.

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