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Native American Baby Names

Photograph by Twenty20

Whether your family was here before the Mayflower or you just love the clear, strong sounds of Native American languages, naming your baby after a Zuni or Cherokee idea requires a little digging. When you find a name you love, learn about the tribe and the meaning to be sure your choice is authentic.


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Meaning: Eagle

Dyami is the name of the Eagle Clan of the Keresan pueblos in New Mexico. The eagle is a soaring, majestic Native American symbol, a divine spirit embodying courage, freedom, renewal, intelligence, healing, spiritual illumination, sacrifice and risk-taking. A Dyami is an honest leader, fearless warrior, bringer of harmony, a strong, positive personality. Your baby boy won't be a downy little eaglet for long. Give him a name to help him rise to the heights.


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Meaning: Fawn

In the Cherokee language, "awinita" is the word for "fawn." The deer is a powerful Native American symbol—often Deer Woman is a fierce, warrior-like spirit. But deer are gentle and graceful, too, and that is the meaning attached to fawn. Attributes of a fawn girl or woman are kindness, compassion, gracefulness, femininity, gentleness, innocence, caring, peacefulness, intelligence and a sense of adventure. Awinita is playful and feminine but she's no pushover.


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Meaning: He laughs

The Algonquin word "ahanu" means "he laughs." Ahanu is a baby boy with a wide grin and an infectious chuckle. The personality is both fearless—laughing in the face of danger—and fun-loving—looking on the bright side, quick to find the humor in a situation. Ahanu can be endearing as well as challenging; his bright energy and relentless optimism push him to be a constantly active explorer. The Algonquin language is the most widespread common tongue among Native American peoples, so Ahanu is a name understood by many Native American tribes.


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Meaning: Firstborn daughter, giving.

The Sioux Dakota name Winona long ago made the crossover from specialized Native American name to widespread tag for a little girl. It signifies both a firstborn daughter and a giving personality. Singer Wynonna Judd and actress Winona Ryder are famous American entertainers. A girl/boy set of firstborn twins might both be named for the position of firstborn in the family with a pair of related, resonant Sioux names: Winona and Chaska.


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Meaning: Firstborn son, eldest son

Firstborn sons had a special name in Sioux as well. Chaska means "firstborn" or "eldest son." The Sioux were the largest of the Native American tribes, with three major divisions incorporating the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people. Sioux Lakota were given six different names throughout their lives, the first or birth name often indicating the child's gender and position in the family.


Popularity rank in the U.S.: Not ranked

Meaning: Little one

Navajo is a name given to a large tribe of Native Americans by Spanish missionaries and settlers. Navajo people prefer to call themselves the Dine, the People. Names are so important that they are reserved for ceremonial use – in everyday conversation people might be referred to by their role in the family: mother, father, eldest son. Yhazi, which means "little one," is sweet name for a small girl. In traditional Dine culture, Yhazi might be the first of several names conferred upon a tribe member during different phases of her life.


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Meaning: Sparrow hawk

"Kele" is the Hopi word for "sparrow hawk," a being considered so pure and innocent that it possesses great spiritual powers. A Hopi baby receives his name at sunrise on his 20th day; a boy's name like Kele is an introduction to a life of sacred ritual and reverence for nature. The kele has its own month in Hopi culture, November, and in spring, the young birds are captured to raise as family members alongside Hopi children.


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Meaning: Dance

Dance is central to traditional Hopi culture and "tiva," meaning "dance," invokes the elaborate and ritual performances that mark every season and phase of Hopi life. Although Hopi culture is closed to outsiders, some dances are opened to observers and are popular attractions. Snake, Butterfly, Buffalo, Flute, Basket and many other dances petition the kachina spirits for rain, rich harvests and abundant blessings. Hopi girl dancers are ornately costumed for their performances. The girl's name Tiva is about the grace of movement and grace from the heavens -- and sacred traditions older than recorded history.


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Meaning: Rippling brook; rippling water

The Miwok people lived among the brooks, rivers and bays of Northern California. Water, in all its forms, was sacred to them. "Misu" is the Miwok word for "rippling brook" or "rippling water." A rippling body of water signified the annual salmon runs, a river or stream full of fresh lively water and fish, the rich resources of San Francisco Bay. A boy named Misu has a head start on the exuberant energy that rippled the surface of the water and meant life to the Miwok tribes.


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Meaning: Sage, wise

An Arapaho word that is simple and short carries a wealth of meaning. "Nakos" may be translated as "sage" or "wise," a quality prized highly in Arapaho culture. Tribal wisdom is strongly environmental: a belief that all living things respond to respect; a conviction that, if you are still and listen, the plants and trees will talk to you; a lifestyle that borrows lightly from the Earth and leaves only a faint footprint. Nakos comes with sage advice to start a very young man on his journey.

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