The following is an edited version of a small book originally published in 2010. The names presented here are from the Southern Inland East Cree dialect. Cree names in this dialect that are originally of European origin have already been presented in a previous post and can be read here.
To give a child a name is an honour burdened with great responsibility. The gift will follow the recipient throughout their life and although many names are of no consequence, others may be of benefit, while others still, a nuisance. As Iyiniw (Cree) people living in a world dominated by English and French, it has become all too normal to bestow names in these languages to our children, but these are nonetheless foreign names that can be a source of difficulty for our elderly monolinguals. Stories of my late grandmother calling my sister ᓇᒣᓴ instead of Melissa are still a source of laughter in my family. My own name, common enough in the English-speaking world, was consistently mispronounced ᑫᐱᓐ by this same grandmother. But aside from these minor inconveniences, these foreign names are an omnipresent reminder of the pressure colonialism exerts on our people, a reality of which the younger generations are becoming increasingly cognizant. Names in our own language are therefore not only be a pleasure for monolinguals to pronounce, they also serve as a reminder of who we truly are as a people.
So why not give the child a name in the language they will likely first learn to speak? In fact, most parents give their children multiple names. Why not make at least one of those a name in our own language?
For the most part, Iyiniw people have always had Iyiniw names. However, the propagation of Christianity altered our naming practices such that names in our own language often depreciated to the level of nickname. Iyiniw names such as ᒨᐦᑯᑖᑲᓐ and ᒦᑾᓐ slowly disappeared from the historical record, only to be replaced by multitudes of Joseph’s and Mary’s. Some Iyiniw names survived as family names, sometimes translated into English by Anglican ministers, while others were simply ignored on paper, only to be used in familiar settings. Iyiniw nicknames continue to be common in most communities, leading at times to mistaken identities and comical misunderstandings. Many years ago, I recall overhearing a story of a Waswanipi man who had killed a moose. Those unfamiliar with this man’s nickname, ᐋᐱᑯᔒᔥ, were humorously bewildered by the idea of a mouse killing such a large animal!
The purpose of this post is twofold – to provide parents with a variety of choices for the baby’s name and to help them make an informed decision as to its spelling. As you take note of the names that may be interest to you, consider reading them aloud to the elders in your family for their opinion. The list of names in this post is by no means exhaustive and you may not find that perfect name for your baby here. But the list may nonetheless prove useful in helping you put the incredible productivity of our language to work to find the right name.
The misspelling of a name can cause great difficulty to those trying to pronounce it. To avoid this, the names in this post will consistently be spelled in an accurate manner in both the syllabic and alphabetic orthographies. Accuracy here refers to the careful speech of elderly monolingual speakers, which best reflects the phonology and morphology of our language.
It is important to understand that the Iyiniw language has its own sound system worthy of its own orthography. Take the word for ‘north wind’ in Iyiniw. We here encourage the syllabic spelling ᒌᐌᑎᓐ, but we admit that an alphabet-based spelling is often desirable, and sometimes necessary for official records. It is not enough, nor accurate, to write the language using English or French spelling rules. We therefore present an alphabetic spelling based on rules internal to the Iyiniw language itself, not based on English or French. In the case of ᒌᐌᑎᓐ, the alphabet-based spelling is here presented as Cīwetin, not the English-based Cheewaydin or the French-based Tshiuetin. However, a standard has yet to be accepted in some parts of Cree country and so some variation is expected. For example, the Cree School Board promotes an intermediate spelling system that is recognizable and usually reasonably accurate. In their system the above word would be spelled in two acceptable ways, Chīwetin and Chiiwetin. The names in this post will be presented in three orthographies for convenience. Note that the Cree School Board variant spelling will only be presented if it differs from the standard, and will always be listed third.
Girl or Boy?
As a general rule, Iyiniw names are not gender specific. However, certain types of names were traditionally more commonly assigned to one gender or the other, from what we can gather from the memory of our elders and from historical records. Names that allude to strength, such as the north wind or names of trees, will usually be given to boys while names that make reference to the south wind or delicate things, such as feathers and flowers, will usually be given to girls. Similarly, the names of birds or prey are traditionally assigned to boys while those of song birds – to girls. That being said, there is no rule that prevents one from doing the opposite and no embarassment would follow the name-bearer. My own late grandmother was strongly in favour of naming my third child Cīwetinoskwew, which is the word for ‘north wind’ followed by a suffix meaning ‘woman.’ By adding such a suffix, a name traditionally associated with men was feminized. I should note that this daughter of mine, as many know, ended up with a different name for a remarkable reason.
The names found in this post were gathered from a variety of sources. The Cree Beneficiary List is one such source that allowed a look at present day Iyiniw names, most of which are included in this post. A cursory look at the Hudson’s Bay Company records located many names as well, but many indecipherable due to their inconsistent English-based spellings. Older and more reliable sources examined were the Catholic baptism registries from the 17th and 18th centuries where Jesuit priests consistently listed the persons’ Iyiniw names as well as their newly appointed European names. In addition to these written sources, elderly monolingual speakers were also questioned about names used in the past and their suggestions for new names were also accepted. Finally, the Iyiniw names of our elders, most of which are originally of English or French origin, were also included in their own section.