Native American nicknames are abundant.
Native American nicknames are abundant.

American Indian nicknames: from "Prairie Flower" to "No Finger"

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past number of years, there has been an almost unending number of stories about sports and the issue of team mascots with offensive or pejorative nicknames.

This national debate has taken particular hold at the University of North Dakota with its school called the Fighting Sioux. More locally, the Wisconsin Indian Education Association is in opposition to granting a one-year extension to the Mukwonago School District to change their Indian-related identity.

Important context, but that is not what this week's blog is about.

For most of my adult life, I've had great admiration for the American Indian, and I still do a lot of reading about them. Without ever having smoked a peace pipe, and never having slept in a teepee (even though I will someday), I've always innately valued their deep and sacred respect for creation and "Mother Earth" and have also been fascinated by their naming conventions as well as penchant for giving nicknames.

So the specific impetus for this week's blog comes from my recent reading of The New York Times bestseller "Empire of the Summer Moon." If you haven't read it, get it. It is simply a book about the rise and fall of the Comanches, the most powerful tribe in American history.

In the mid-19th Century, President Ulysses S. Grant's vaunted "Peace Policy" toward the remaining American Indians was going nowhere fast. General Sherman decided it was time to kick butt and take some nicknames, so he engaged the Civil War hero Ranald Slidel Mackenzie to clean up the mess, a guy who graduated first in his class from West Point in 1862.

As the book states, "Because his had was gruesomely disfigured from war wounds, the Indians called him 'No Finger,' or 'Bad Hand.'"

Ironically, and little did the Indians know, having Mackenzie arrive on the high plans of Oklahoma would soon mean they would be dealt a very bad hand.

The book is replete with other nickname references. There is a story about "Spirit Talker" and an encounter with a soldier nicknamed Matthew "Old Paint" Caldwell who took a stray bullet in the leg.

Then there is the very famous Cynthia Ann Parker, who was nicknamed "Nadua" or "Nauta" a nickname meaning "someone found." Cynthia, in turn, had an infant daughter nicknamed "Prairie Flower." And within the next two years, Cynthia gave birth to her second son whom she nicknamed "Peanuts." This nickname originated from her fond childhood memory of him eating peanuts around the fireside at the Parker's Fort. The first son was nicknamed "Eagle."

"Both names are unusual and suggest that Cynthia, who the family legend said was a "spirited squaw," and her husband had defied Comanche custom by naming the children themselves."

But in the end, the book's central figure is an Indian nicknamed "Quanah" – a Comanche word that meant "odor" or "fragrance." As the book states, "If that is true, then the name Quanah is a nickname. The name comes from the Comanche "kwaina," meaning "fragrant." Apparently, riding horseback all day in mid-summer on 100-degree days in Oklahoma could very well lead to just such a nickname.


SarahLibrarian | Nov. 21, 2011 at 1:15 p.m. (report)

This entire post is wrought with racist overtones. Would your opinion, knowledge or "admiration' for the native peoples of this country have any difference if you had indeed slept in a teepee or smoked from a peace pipe, or engaged in any other stereotypical American Indian activity? As I would hope you know, not all American Indians live(d) in teepees or habitually smoke from peace pipes. Each nation and tribe has its own cultural traditions and ways of life.

Your use of quotation marks around Mother Earth and every nickname used within the book you are attempting to discuss is also disrespectful. You would not put quotations around the words/names God or Jesus or Allah or Moses, would you?

The fact that the word 'squaw' even appears in this blog post is racist. The word 'squaw' has historically been used in a disparaging manner towards Native women, and, in the context given here, appears to be as well.

The tenuous connection you try to make here between school mascot names and nicknames within a historical novel (with many inaccuracies) is an aberration. The continued struggle among the Native peoples of this country against school and sports teams using their titles and likenesses is nothing to be taken lightly. To suggest that, schools which use American Indians as their mascots, is akin to using a nickname, shows your utter lack or respect for all cultures indigenous to this country.

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