Six different ways a person could be named
The traditional practice of ‘naming’ was not always done in the same way. In general, there were six different ways in which a person could receive a name in Ojibwe society. These included the following:
The first type of name was given ceremonially to either an infant or adult by someone who had received the name in a dream or vision. The child or person receiving a name from a person who dreamed the name was supposed to receive a spiritual benefit from it that would protect and guide them throughout their life.
The second type of name was a dream name acquired by an individual during their own dream or vision. This was usually received in during a fast and isolation. Such a name was associated with a spirit who gave them the name. This name was seldom mentioned and the person might use a different name most of the time instead due to the sacred nature of such a name. The experience of this dream name would give its possessor a ‘spirit power’ or protection. A person who received their name this way had the right and power to name others.
The third type of name was a “namesake name” given by parents, but not bestowed in a ceremonial manner. In most cases a namesake name was not in any way associated with a dream or spirit, but was just a common name.
The fourth type of name was the most ‘common’ type given to Ojibwe children. The common name or nickname was a name by which an Ojibwe was known throughout their life. This type of name was usually short and might contain an element of humor. A child might be given a name derived from some circumstance at the time of its birth, or from some event or animal that was nearby, or even because they bore a resemblance to something or acted a certain way. Humor was usually involved, such as one person who was named “without teeth” because it took a really long time for their teeth to come in as a baby, or another person who was named “stump” because they were very short. In both instances, the people who bore these names carried the names their entire lives.
In the fifth way, a person – usually a hereditary chief or clan leader – was sometimes known by the name of their family or clan group.
Lastly, a person might be given an English names and later have that name adopted or translated into Ojibwemowin. In some instances such names might just be done by (mis)pronouncing the English name to sound or be more Ojibwe. For instance, a girl named Josephette or Josephine might be called ‘Zozed’, a person named Margaret might be called ‘Magid’ or ‘Magidins’, meaning “Little Margaret.” Sophia might be rendered as ‘Sope’, and the name Minnie could become ‘Minin’. In other cases this is reversed and a person will be known by their Ojibwe name translated into English.
So what’s your name?
Learn more at Densmore, Frances. 1929. “Chippewa Customs.” Bulletin. Washington: U.S. Govt. print. off.