Bet Ya Can’t Pick Just One….Name that is

Oh, my head hurts.  I’m busy transcribing away, working on the Massachusetts Indians who served in the Revolutionary War.  And then I find Joseph Nicholas Hawwawas.

A long time ago, I learned that when I look at a record and think to myself, “my, that’s interesting,” a little neon light should start flashing in my brain, because one day, I will need to remember why this is interesting, and it will make much more sense.  Well, I looked at Joseph Nicholas Hawwawas and I thought, a middle name, now isn’t that interesting. 

Middle names weren’t even in use at this time for European men.  When I see someone’s family tree and it has a middle name at this time, unless it’s a rare circumstance where it’s a last name being used as a middle name, I know that someone has gotten bad information and it causes me to suspect the accuracy of the tree. 

If European men hadn’t yet taken middle names, surely Indian men who were just beginning to, in some cases, adopt anglicized names at all, wouldn’t have a middle name.  After all, this is 1780, not 1920. 

And then I read the rest of his entry – the small print – and it said:

Joseph Nicholas Hawwawas, Indian, pension references father and son as having service under numerous names including Nicholas Hawas, Nicholas Ovas, Joseph Nicholas, Capt. Nichols and Nicholas Hawwawhas, but did not clarify the service performed by each man under these names.  Oh yes, and there is another entry for a Nicholas Hawwawas too, who was a Lieutenant.  Was he yet a different man.  He lived in Perry, Maine, but served in Massachusetts.  But that’s not all….yet another Nicholas Hawwawas who was a St. John’s Indian living in St. John’s Maine. 

Oh, my head hurts.  Not only is Joseph Nicholas Hawwawas not one man, but two, three or four, he, or they, have between them 6 separate names, a total of 7 different parts, not counting Captain, which was often used as a first name for Native people in that timeframe and two ranks.  And these are just the names recorded in the documents found by the DAR.  How many more names did they use?  How many more times are they recorded under different names?

And of course, this leads me to ask more difficult and uncomfortable questions.  How many names did other Native people use?  How many of these families look to be extinct today, but are humming right along with a completely different surname.  And how would we ever connect those dots?

I know that in some cases, surnames changed, but when did the concept of surnames, meaning you pick one, and you keep it and you pass it down paternally, generationally, actually become widespread among the Indians?  I would have expected to see this pattern by the time of the Revolutionary War on the eastern seaboard, especially the heavily settled areas.  By this time the Native people had been living with and among the Europeans for more than 170 years, AND, they were fighting WITH and FOR them, unlike their brethren further removed to the west (who were fighting against the Americans) who one would not expect to be nearly so Europeanized.  But, clearly, in some cases, and perhaps in more cases than we care to think about, this just isn’t true.

Will the real Joseph Nicholas Hawwawas, Nicholas Hawas, Nicholas Ovas, Joseph Nicholas, Capt. Nichols, or Nicholas Hawwawhas please stand up and state your name, for the record?

Hello, my name is Nicholas Hawwawas and this is my brother Nicholas and my other brother Nicholas…..:)

About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
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3 Responses to Bet Ya Can’t Pick Just One….Name that is

  1. Susi Pentico says:

    I read your report, chuckling along and was wanting to add so much more, instead we will leave it alone for awhile. I will probably come back to it later and add to the confusion. I am not sure unless you lived within the tribe, and new the oral history if we could track our lines very far back.
    I can track to the Indian that married the white man or woman, (have both cases) but I have not tried to track farther back. I had a book years ago that a friend had, (indian background) that was about the Sioux. It had some lineages that the tribe had retained on Animal Hides, very extensive, also they were attempting to reclaim the language that was disappearing. I wish I could remember the name of the book and that family is gone now, daughters moved and both then adults deceased.

  2. Susi Pentico says:

    My Uncle said we had Sioux blood, if so it was way long ago. But I can verify the Choctaw.

  3. Nancy says:

    “Oh, my head hurts” – welcome to my world – Native American Research in the northeast – never dull but often maddening !!!!

    So many of our Native names come from French baptismal names, so they are most often two part names. Thomas Louis, Jean Baptist, Louis Joseph, etc.

    The change in the Northeast towards using true surnames occurred at different times in each family. In my research, I have found true surnames used by some families as early as the mid 1700s while other families continue an earlier system of naming until after the Civil War.

    “How many more names did they use? How many more times are they recorded under different names? … How many of these families look to be extinct today, but are humming right along with a completely different surname. And how would we ever connect those dots?” – all really good questions most Native researchers face every day. No end to the possibilities and the frustrations. With a good dose of luck and strong determination we can sometimes find some of the answers.

    Don’t forget, Maine was still part of Massachusetts until 1820. That is why you find Penobscot listed in Mass. Hawawas (at least one of them) was an officer, so likely to be named in more military records and therefore more likely to show up in DAR research in records of both locations – which are really not two separate locations anyway.

    Did you read this guy’s pension file? The people that testified about the father and son could not agree on who was who or who did what when. Testimony was even contradictory about which tribe the man/men represented at the time of the war.

    “Hello, my name is Nicholas Hawwawas and this is my brother Nicholas and my other brother Nicholas…..:)”

    LOL I almost fell off my chair. I have actually researched historic families that could use that greeting and have it be true.


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