Decisions, Decisions – What Constitutes a Native Name??

In these old records, it’s sometimes hard to distinguish a Native name versus a name that is being used as a last name, or a name in transition between the two.  It really doesn’t matter which records you’re working with, the decisions are the same.

From the 1869 Cherokee West Census, here are three examples and what I’ve done with them.

When there is no first name and the names are still spelled with hyphens, I am counting them as Native language names and not including them.  Keeping in mind my goal is for people to be able to take a surname and look it up, these seem very unlikely to be productive.  An example would be the single name Ar-Qua-Ta-Kee.

When there is a first name with a second name, regardless of whether there are hyphens or not, I’m counting it as a surname.  Often, the hyphens simply disappear with time and the Native name or something similar becomes the last name.  While this isn’t always true, I’ve seen it often enough that when a first name is in evidence, it shows that the “name adoption” process is taking place.  Worst case, I’ve typed way too many names.  Best case, it really should be included, and it is.

In the third case, where there is a first name only, I’m recording it as a surname.  While this seems counter-intuitive, I’ve seen several cases where I was able to follow individuals through time when dealing with chiefs signing treaties and such, that what was initially the first name becomes the last name, probably in the second generation when “Jack” had two sons and one became Bob Jack and the second one Billy Jack. 

Is this the right decision?  I’ll probably never know for sure….but that’s what decisions are about….trying to create some order out of disorder.

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About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
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One Response to Decisions, Decisions – What Constitutes a Native Name??

  1. Yvonne says:

    Roberta, thank you for addressing this. We have a family letter in which the name “Ecatoocca” is mentioned, but I’ve found so many names that are similar, it’s been difficult to pinpoint who this person is. I thought it interesting that the “Ar-Qua-Ta-Kee” you mentioned was one we’ve considered. Another we’ve found was “Aquo-takey” Turkey. We’re still looking for our “Ecatooca.”

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