All Wyandot proper names had their foundation in this clan system. They were clan names. The unit of the Wyandot social and political systems was not the family nor the individual, but the clan. The child belonged to its clan first, to its parents afterwards. Each clan had its list of proper names, and this list was its exclusive property which no other clan could appropriate or use. They were necessarily clan names.
The customs and usages governing the formation of clan proper names demanded that they be derived from some part, habit, action or peculiarity of the animal from which the clan was supposed to be descended. Or they might be derived from some property, law, or peculiarity of the element in which such animal lived. Thus a proper name was always a distinctive badge of the clan bestowing it.
When death left unused any original clan proper name, the next child born into the clan, if of the sex to which the vacant name belonged, had such vacated name bestowed upon it. If no child was born, and a stranger was adopted, this name was given to such adopted person. This was the unchangeable law, and there was but one proviso or exception to it. When a child was born under some extraordinary circumstances, or peculiarity, or with some distinguishing mark, or a stranger adopted with these, the council-women of the clan informed themselves of all the facts and devised a name in which all these facts were imbedded. This name was made to conform to the ancient law governing clan proper names if possible, but often this could not be done. These special names died with their owners, and were never perpetuated.
The parents were not permitted to name the child; the clan bestowed the name. Names were given but once a year, and always at the ancient anniversary of the Green Corn Feast. Anciently, formal adoptions could be made at no other time. The name was bestowed by the clan chief. He was a civil officer of both his clan and the tribe. At an appointed time in the ceremonies of the Green Corn Feast each clan chief took an assigned position, which in ancient times was the Order of Precedence and Encampment, and parents having children to be named filed before him in, the order of the ages of the children to be named. The council-women stood by the clan chief, and announced to him the name of each child presented, for all clan proper names were made by the council-women. This he could do by simply announcing the name to the parents, or by taking the child in his arms and addressing it by the name selected for it.
The adoption of a stranger was into some family by consent, or at the instance of the principal woman of the family. It was not necessary that the adoption be made at the Green Corn Feast. The adoption was not considered complete, however, until it was ratified by the clan chief at the Green Corn Feast. This ratification might be accomplished in the simple ceremonial of being presented at this time to the clan chief by one of the Sheriffs. His clan name was bestowed upon him, and he was welcomed in a few well-chosen words, and the ceremony was complete. Or the adoption might be performed with as much display, ceremony and pomp as the tribal council might, from any cause, decree. The tribal council controlled in some degree the matter of adoptions. In ancient times, when many prisoners of war were brought in it determined how many should be tortured and how many adopted.
Lalemant says the original and true name of the Wyandots is Ouendat.
In history the Wyandots have been spoken of by the following names:
- Petuneux or Nation du Petun (Tobacco)
They call themselves:
- When’-duht, or
They never accepted the name Huron, which is of French origin.
The Wyandots have been always considered the remnant of the Hurons. That they were related to the people called Hurons by the French, there is no doubt. After having studied them carefully for almost twenty years, I am of the opinion that the Wyandot are more closely related to the Seneca than they were to the ancient Hurons.
Both myth and tradition of the Wyandot say they were created in the region between St. James’s Bay and the coast of Labrador. All their traditions describe their ancient home as north of the mouth of the St. Lawrence.
In their traditions of their migrations southward they say they came to the island where Montreal now stands. They took possession of the country along the north bank of the St. Lawrence from the Ottawa River to a large lake and river far below Quebec.