kiwiinsooneminaana ‘Our Names’

Giving a relative a Myaamia name is one important way in which individuals are woven into the web of family that binds us together as a community. Today, names are often given to adults as well as older children, but in earlier times names were often given shortly after birth. In the winter of 1824-25, Meehcikilita ‘Le Gros’ described the common practices of giving names in Myaamia villages at the time.

There is no particular period fixed for naming children, nor [is it] considered necessary to make any ceremony on the occasion. Very often the parents agree upon a name and the child is known by it thereafter. But more frequently the mother, ten, twenty or more days after the birth of the infant, goes to some old woman of her acquaintance, and having presented her with a small quantity of goods, desires her to come to the lodge and give a name to the child. At an appointed time the old woman goes, and in presence of the family only, takes the child in her arms and commences a kind of harangue, addressed to the infant, in which she describes the circumstances of some fortunate dream which she has had, & concludes by drawing an inference from each particular fact described, applicable to a point in the character of the infant. As, if she saw a deer, he will be swift on foot. If a ferocious animal, he will be a warrior. She argues too that he will be blessed with long life, and she gives him a descriptive of some one of the circumstances of her dream, taking care however that it is such an one as is usually given to the members of the particular tribe to which the child belongs.[1]

In this case, the “particular tribe” mentioned in the quote was probably what we would call today a clan. Clans among the Myaamia were large extended kinship groups who shared descent from a common ancestor. Evidence in the historical record indicates that among the Myaamia one inherited their clan from their father. In his text, Trowbridge recorded that the Miami Nation was originally divided into five clans, but that because of population collapse the clans were no longer operating.[2] The large historical record of our names also supports the conclusion that at one time our naming practices were tied to these clan groupings. For example, there are a large number of loon names that are clearly linked to a historic loon clan. Additionally, the word eewiinsooniaanki can be translated as “we are named after someone” or “we are of a certain clan.” Our clan system fell dormant by the early 1800s, and from that point forward we see patterns of Myaamia families passing names down within the family group as a whole and not simply following the father’s line of descent.

Today, we have a good understanding of the kinds of names that Myaamia people used over time, and we know that this stock of names was reused across generations. There is also an ongoing tradition of creating new names to reflect the changing nature of our community and the unique characteristics of its individual members. However, we understand that there is an accepted process and form that new names take.

In the mid-twentieth century, our language was pushed into dormancy and huge swaths of our culture were disrupted. Population decline, geographical fragmentation, and land loss produced by forced removals and the allotment of communal lands were the leading causes of the diminishment of our culture. During this period of loss, naming continued to a small extent among some families, but the practice of giving a Myaamia name declined among most families.

In the 1990s, we breathed new life into our naming practices again through the Eemamwiciki language and culture revitalization effort. Eemamwiciki, which means ‘they awaken,’ metaphorically references how the return of language and culture felt like waking up from a long sleep. This awakening fueled a motivation for more families to seek out Myaamia names. Within our community we began to give and use our names again, a practice that had been dormant for at least a generation. In response, cultural leaders developed processes to help our community give names in a culturally responsible manner.

Today, Myaamia names are often given to children, usually by a parent, grandparent, or family elder.  We also have many adults in our community who have never received Myaamia name. If an adult does not have an elder in their family to name them, they will often approach a community elder, give them a gift, and request a name. The process for choosing a name is the same whether a child or adult is being given a name. First, a list of names is compiled that are common in the family of the person to be named. If that information is not available in their family records, the family can email the Cultural Resources Office of the Miami Tribe or the Myaamia Center to ask for help. The person who is giving the name then spends time thinking about the individual to be named and their family history before selecting a name. It is customary that a name giver never bestows the same name twice. But different givers can use the same names, and so a single Myaamia name can be carried by different community members at the same time. Once a name is chosen, families often formally give the name at the next family or tribal gathering. As in Meehcikilita’s time, the giver often explains the origins of the name and why they selected it. The event concludes with the audience of assembled family greeting the recipient with their new name.

Participants from the 2019 Eewansaapita Educational Experience in Miami, Oklahoma create a web of community that illustrates our connectedness to one another.
Participants from the 2019 Eewansaapita Educational Experience in Miami, Oklahoma create a web of community that illustrates our connectedness to one another. Photo credit: Jonathan M. Fox

Historically, names were rarely used when addressing people in public.[3] Instead, kinship terms were used when talking to community members face-to-face. Today, however, it’s quite common to use our names when talking to people. Because we don’t all live in one place together, it is important to use our names with each other in person and online in social media so the use of names can be reinforced. Using our names is one way in which we celebrate our Myaamia identity and our sense of belonging to community.

If you are a Myaamia community member and have questions about Myaamia names or naming practices, please reach out to George Ironstrack at ironstgm@miamioh.edu. Myaamia names are important to us and our community elders have asked us to treat this knowledge with great care. For this reason we only share our names within our community.

Footnotes

Featured photo: Cousins, from left to right: Jensen Dorey (kitahsaakana), Ethan McDonald (ciinkwaahkia), and Josiah Dorey (mihtekia) after being named by their grandmother, Marisa Palmer, and great-grandmother, Peggy McCord, in June 2017. Photo courtesy of Meghan Dorey.

[1] Charles C. Trowbridge and W. Vernon Kinietz, Meearmeear Traditions (Ann Arbor [Mich.]: University of Michigan Press, 1938), 37-38.

[2] Trowbridge, Meearmeear Traditions, 18. There were multiple lists of Myaamia clans recorded by historians and linguists. None of these lists match in terms of number of clans listed or the names of these clans, but there are a few clans that show up on every list. If you are a Myaamia community member and would like to learn more about Myaamia clans, please contact George Ironstrack at ironstgm@miamioh.edu.

[3] Trowbridge, Meearmeear Traditions, 38.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Brooke Eastburn says:

    Neewe George for this article on naming. I received my Myaamia name last fall (Wapaciikwa). I am so glad to have a Myaamia name and hope to name my children and grandchildren in the future.

    1. aya Brooke, neewe for sharing your story about naming. I know your children and grandchildren will appreciate it when the time comes.

  2. Dani Tippmann says:

    This is a very timely article because we have a granddaughter who will be named in the near future. Neewe for sharing it!
    Dani

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