Give Yourself a Cherokee Name!


Ever since writing my amateurish on-line Cherokee flash cards, several people have written me wanting to know what their name is in Cherokee. After receiving several such requests, I have decided to bring my infinite wisdom to everyone and post a page on how to give yourself your very own Cherokee name! The advantages are obvious - not only can you get your new name in record time, you no longer have to put up with me :)

OK, let's walk through some common names and their special Cherokee counterparts:
 English Name   Cherokee Equivalent   Meaning 
Donnie Donnie Donnie
Eddy Eddy Eddy
Lisa Lisa Lisa

OK, that was just a demonstration of the power you'll have once you master this method. I don't expect you to pick it up all at once. It takes time. Let's walk through the process carefully.

First, find out your name in English. This name is bequeathed upon white people by a special process in which the parents write the name on a piece of paper. If you are unsure of what this name is, ask your parents or look on your driver's license.

Now, look at the syllables. For example, the name Lisa has two syllables - li and sa. These are important, so write them down.

OK, here's the important part - go to a Cherokee syllabary (a good one is at joyce.eng.yale.edu/%7Ejolo/CherTabl.html). Look up each syllable. In this case, the English syllable li, in Cherokee, is li. Similarly, the English syllable sa, in Cherokee, is sa. Combine these (li-sa) and you get lisa!

OK, that's for an easy name. Sometimes you won't find an exact match. When that happens, sound out the name and just pick out the closest sounding one. I've noticed a lot of English names have the letter 'r'. Cherokee doesn't have an 'r' sound (which is pretty funny, given that everyone calls them Cherokee, which has an 'r' in it; Tsalagi, the proper name, does not).

You'll also notice that some syllables sound alike but are not spelled alike. When this happens, do whatever you feel like. If you use the Cherokee syllabary characters, no one will know the difference. If you want to write the Cherokee language using English letters (which is common, especially if you don't have access to a Cherokee font for typing), you can spell the name phonetically and you'll be OK. You'll change the sound of the name, of course, but whites tend to do that when they talk about names they can't pronounce, like Momar Quaddafi or Mao Tse-tung.

So here's a revised table of my best guesses about European names and their Cherokee equivalents, in both the English and Cherokee syllabary:
 English Name   Cherokee (Latinized)   Cherokee 
Allen Ale (maybe)
Akira Awiya
Baylor Alo
Connie Kani
Donnie Dani
Easy-E Iyi-i
Eddy Edi
Jose Hose
Juan Wahna
Ice-T Is-ti -
Lisa Lisa
Mimi Mimi
Trey Te
Wayne Wena

Occasionally, someone asks me, "Isn't my Cherokee name going to be something romantic like Running Bear or Large Thunder Wolf?" I normally assume they are joking.

Sometimes they aren't. This scares me. I can't help but picture some Chinese guy coming to the United States and asking "In China, my name was Chi-Huan, what is my English name? Is it Greedy Capitalist Jones? Or Junk Bond Johnny? Shallow New Age Shyster? White Power Williams? Gas Guzzling Hoopty?".

I hear that at some summer camps, children are given "Indian names" by their white camp counselors, and I know I've seen Americans offer to tell whites their "Indian name". For the latter, this is normally done at tourist-oriented festivals (where someone needs the money) or by "spiritual"-oriented "teachers" catering to mostly white and mixed blood crowds (again, for the money). Some really nice and good people believe in the Indian name because they've never been told otherwise, and others believe it because they really, really want to (there is a curious group of people in the US that love Indian culture, language, spirit and harmony but don't seem to care much for Indians).

Some people do get called alternate names. This is common when you don't know someone's name, such as on the X-Files, where characters are called Cigarette Smoking Man, Well Manicured Man, Rat Boy and Puffy Faced Boy. So maybe in the old days when no American spoke English they would have come up with a name for you (that is, until they found out your real name). Maybe someone would give you a nick name, like Fat Boy or Dork, but if an Indian gives it to you, that does not become your "official" Indian name - it's just a nick name one person calls you (yes, my friends have always had nick names for me, and yes that name actually does translate in Cherokee, but it is just a nick name, that's all).

Here's the sad facts of life - your name is the name you're born with. If at birth your parents named you Dances with Wolves, then you can get that translated to something in Cherokee. Otherwise, once a John, always a John.

But really, is that so bad?


The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by the University of Minnesota.