Interviewer: Can you tell me how your children get their names?
Informant: Yes. Traditionally, in our Native ways, someone may change their name 2-4 times throughout the course of their life.
Interviewer: You mean they would get nicknames?
Informant: No, they would change their names. When they are born they may be given a name that speaks to how their parents want them to be. But over time, there may be a defining moment or incident in their life that would cause them to be known by another name. This might be from an act of bravery, an accident, or just an unusual experience.
Interviewer: And everyone, including their family, would then call them by this new name?
Informant: Yes, especially their family. And this might happen a few times throughout their lives.
Interviewer: Do you have an “Indian name?”
Informant: Yes, my name is “Atsiniki.”
Interviewer: What does it mean?
Informant: Story Teller.
The informant is a Choctaw man in his early 50’s. He was born in Texas and grew up in Oklahoma. He currently resides in Tennessee with his wife and children.
During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my father. My dad and I decided to have cigars in the back yard and I asked if he could share a few stories regarding our Native culture. I’ve grown up learning about these many traditions but asked him to explain them as if sharing with someone unfamiliar with the culture.
Names are an interesting thing. They travel with us, shaping how we see ourselves and the rest of the world. They help build our reality and draw meaning within chaos. When we can name something, we come a bit closer to understanding it; or at least conceiving it a bit better. A lifespan shows movement so it’s interesting to see that reflected in names as well. Many people have nicknames or change their name to mark a new phase in their life, which shows the importance of identity that can be found in a name.