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Plains Indians - The Importance of Names Illustration

Names
Native Americans
in Olden Times for Kids

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Names were valuable property. The Plains Indians believed that some names possessed magical powers. Names could be sold, given away, or discarded at will. A boy usually took a new name when he reached manhood. A girl typically kept her name all her life. She did not change her name in any way when she married.

When the early settlers translated Native names into English, they made many mistakes. The Plains people, and other tribes across the country, often found this quite funny. They would use the wrong names in their war preparation ceremonies, not to ridicule the owner of the name, but to ridicule their enemy.

Sitting Bull, for example, the great Sioux leader, had his name translated as "Sitting Bull", because the picture of his name, the hieroglyph, looked like a bull that was sitting to the early pioneers. But his name was not Sitting Bull. It was "The Bull in Possession", which has quite a different meaning.

Another example concerns a young Dakota Sioux warrior. His name was translated as "Young Man Afraid of His Horses." Actually, his name was "Young Man Whose Very Horses Are Feared". He was an incredible warrior, with many feathers.