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Blackfoot Names

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Each individual has a name. The name is single in that there is neither family nor band name; though some persons, especially men, possess several names, these are co-ordinate and never used jointly. The right to name the child rests with the father; though he rarely confers it in person unless a man of great importance. He usually calls in a man of distinction who receives presents in return for his services. A woman may be called, but less often than a man, be the child male or female. There is no fixed time for this, but it is not considered right to defer it many weeks after birth. The namer asks to have a sweat house made which he enters, often in company with the father and other men he chances to invite. After the usual sweat house ceremonies, the namer suggests two or three names for consideration by the family. A selection is then made, the father, in any event, having the right of final approval. Prayers are usually offered by the namer.

The conferring of the name is regarded as of very great importance since the manner of its doing is believed to influence the fate of the child during the entire span of life. The virtue of the naming is greatly enhanced, if the officiating person is one of great renown.

The name chosen may have various origins. As a rule, it will be the name of some person long dead, if possible one of great distinction. Thus, the writer was in a way adopted by a Blood head man, who gave him choice of two names, one that of a distinguished warrior, the other of a great medicine man. If a person living is known to bear the preferred name, it may be slightly modified by the change or addition of attributes. Thus, Little Dog may become White Dog, or simply Dog, to distinguish the bearer from another of the same name. In all such cases, there is the feeling that the name itself carries with it some power to promote the well being of him upon whom it is conferred. Again, a father may name the child from deeds of his own, as Two-guns, Takes-the-shield, etc. As a rule, unless he has weighty deeds to his credit, the father will not himself venture to confer a name. As always, there is the feeling that unless the name is of great worth, the fates will be adverse to the named. Sometimes, one may have a dream or hear a voice that gives him power to confer a name; it goes without saying that such is considered highly efficacious.

Mothers usually give the baby a special name according to some characteristic habit or expression. This name is rarely used by others.

Women seldom change their names but men always do. When the youth goes on his first war party his companions give him a new name. This name often carries with it an element of ridicule and should the youth show reluctance at its proposal it will be changed to Not-want-to-be-called-etc. After the party has returned the family will say to the youth, “Well, I suppose you have a new name: I suppose it is the name of some old grand-mother, etc.” Then the youth is forced to give his new name which is certain to excite great merriment and teasing. Later, when the youth performs some worthy deed, he will be given a new and more dignified name. This will be his name as a man, though subject to change at any time. Names are sometimes formally changed at the sun dance by the chief-weather-dancer who announces, “Now, if you wish this man to aid you, if you call upon him for help, etc., you must address him as ____________.

His other name is now left behind at this place.” At other times the change of names is less formal and may be at the sole initiative of the person concerned. In practice, it seems that a man never really abandons a name though always spoken of by the last conferred or current name since he will say that he has two, three, or any number, as the case may be, enumerating all those given him during his life. While to ask a man his name is very rude, he himself seems free to speak of it on his own initiative. The custom seems to rest upon ideas of politeness, since not to have heard a man’s name even before meeting him is said to reflect upon his good standing among the people.


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