Sovereign Amonsoquath Band of Cherokee

CHEROKEE NAMES  



What's in a Name?

In the late 1700's and all through the 1800's many Cherokees

adopted the European tradition of using surnames and passing

the name on to their children. Many chose European surnames

such as Adair, Vann, Starr, Price, Grant, Hicks, Guess, Ward,

Smith, Taylor, Ross, or Boudinot.

Some Cherokees translated the meaning of their Cherokee names

into the English equivalent word, such as Bean, Walker, Bear

Paw, Tadpole, Wolf, Locust, Flea, Cricket, Rider, Pumpkinpile,

Acorn, Housebug, Pigeon, or Smoke. In most Cherokee cases the

names made reference to a single animal, insect, plant, or part

of the environment, as opposed to the compound names common to

many other Indian tribes like He Who Thinks, Holy Bear, Little

Beaver, White Buffalo Calf Woman, or Thunder Over the Mountains.

Compound names did appear among the Cherokees but not as

frequently, like Goingsnake, Bellowingsnake, Dreadfulwater,

Going Up Stream, Big Drum, Arrowkeeper, Broken In Two, Swimmer,

Buck Scraper, Old Blanket, White Man Killer, or Tobacco Mouth.

In addition, some Cherokees anglicized their Cherokee names

by translating the Cherokee language sounds into the English

alphabet. Examples are Oo Ta Wo Ta, Ooh Lah Nea Tah, Ahquatageh,

Ko Tut Tih Nih, Kow Wee Te Tee, Te Ke Nas Ki, Tehital Leh Ih,

Wah Wha UU Ta Ainih. As you can probably see from just these

few examples, the possibilities are great for inconsistencies,

confusion, multiple spellings of the same names and errors.

Many of these names first were translated to English writing

when the U.S. government and military census roll takers were

out in the field enumerating the Indian Nations. This problem

was in no way exclusive to the Cherokees or even Indians for

that matter. It was experienced to some degree by all the

tribes and by the non-English speaking immigrants to the

United States at the ports of entry like Ellis Island, when

they had to declare a name. Errors naturally arose as a result

of the different census takers' ears for translating the

Cherokee sounds into English syllables. It also led to

variability from roll to roll in how an individual person's

name might be spelled. An additional problem was that the

original Cherokee territory was so large that regional

dialects developed. This too probably influenced the

variability in the census takers' recordings.

Another related problem was the lack of standardization in

the use of English letters to represent sounds. For example,

are "U", "Uu", and "Oo" the same sounds? Are "Te" and Teh"

the same sounds or different sounds? Are "Aw" and "Ah" the

same or different? Is "Lil Lih" the same name as "Lilih"?

Both names appear on the 1883 Hester Roll. Is "Oosowee" the

same name as "Oosowih"? How about "Oooo So Wee"? All three

names appear on the 1908 Churchill Roll.

A final problem is the natural evolutionary change of the

Cherokee language. The demands of the last 150 years have

led to many changes in the language. Foremost, of course,

is Sequoyah's invention of the Cherokee Syllabary, After

many false starts to develop a written language, he finally

settled on a series of symbols to represent the different

syllable sounds. This led to almost full tribal literacy in

a remarkable short time. It also had the tendency over time

to force regional differences out of the language. The same

symbol was used to represent two similar yet slightly

different sounds, such as "g" and "k" sounds, and "t" and

"d" sounds. Holmes and Smith (1977) point out several flaws

in the Syllabary. None-the-less, the drive to save the

Cherokee language, when so many native tongues were lost,

led to the standardization of the English spelling of

Cherokee words. The Cherokee-English Dictionary published

by the Oklahoma Cherokee Nation made great strides towards

the maintaining the existence of the language for future

generations, but it also eliminated many of the well-

established ways of representing Cherokee names in English.

For example, "Oo" was commonly used to represent the "u"

sound, like in the English word "moon." The Cherokee

dictionary now spells all those words with a single English

"u". The Cherokee Syllabary alphabet has no symbol to

represent the consonant "ch" sound, so those words are given

the Cherokee Symbol for either the sound "tsu" or "tsv".

These problems come back to haunt researchers when tracing

back genealogical records. A case in point was when I was

asked to search Cherokee records for the relatives of people

living today with the modern surname of CHUKALATE. That

particular spelling was not found listed on any of the rolls.

But the following similar names were found:

CHUC KA LUKA

CHOO CHO LUT TAH

CHOOALUKE

CHU CHA LA TAH

CHU CH OL LA TEH

CHU KO LA TO CHU CHA LA THE

CHUCALATE

CHOO QUA LA TIH

CHUCULATE

CHUH KA HEH

CHUCUERLATE

CHOO KO LUT TO YIH

CHUKERLATE

CHOO CO LA TAH

Several other names were also similar, but not nearly as

similar as these. This makes it very difficult to accurately

trace lineage back in time. Careful scanning of the details

of the application files of the rolls is important. As another

example, while researching the surname CLOUD I discovered at

least six different spellings for the Cherokee version of

that name:

CHOO LO KIL LEH

OO LAW GIH LUH

OO GEH WE

YOO OO LAW

GILL OO GU LAW

GA LUH ULAGILI

Whenever you are searching any Native American genealogy

resources, you must be alert to possible alternate spellings.

You must recognize that somewhere in the 1880's many Native

Americans took on new names or anglicized versions of their

native names. Before that time, it was not common practice

to hand your surname on to your children.

It may become necessary for you to hire a native speaking

Cherokee researcher to interpret the variation in names. That

person can try to link the English spelling to Cherokee

syllables to help determine whether the variations between two

similarly spelled names represents the same name spelled

differently, or two different names. For those people tracing

Cherokee roots, it may be a frustrating barricade to cross,

but the good side is you will learn a little bit about the

structure of your native tongue.

References: Blankenship, Bob, "Cherokee Roots,

Volume 1: Eastern Cherokee Rolls and

Volume 2: Western Cherokee Rolls, 2nd Editon".

Cherokee, NC: Bob Blankenship, 1992.

Chiltosky, Mary Ulmer, "Cherokee Words with Pictures"

Cherokee, NC:

Mary Ulmer and G.B. Chiltoskey, 1972.

Feeling, Durban, "Cherokee-English Dictionary",

Edited by William Pulte in collaboration with Agnes

Cowen, Charles Sanders, Sam Hair, Annie Meigs, and

Anna Gritts Kilpatrick Smith,

Tahlequah, OK: Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, 1975.

Holmes, Ruth Bradley and Smith, Betty Sharp,

"Beginning Cherokee, 2nd Edition", Norman, OK:

University of Oklahoma Press, 1977.

Mooney, James, "History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of

the Cherokees" (1885), 1898. 1932),

Reprinted: Asheville, NC:

Historical Images (Bright Mountain Books), 1992.

Starr, Emmet,

"History of the Cherokee Indians and Their Legends and

Folk Lore" (1921),

Reprinted Tulsa, OK: Oklahoma Yersterday Publications,

1993.

Woodward, Grace Steele, "The Cherokee Indians" Norman, OK:

University of Oklahoma Press, 1963.

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