My historical novels Rebel Puritan and The Reputed Wife, Herodias (Long) Hicks Gardner Porter, colonial New England, travels, and whatever else seizes my fancy...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What's In a Name: Part 2

Thanksgiving is over, and we’ve remembered our beloved Pilgrims’ first feast.  Like us, they called it Thanksgiving Day, but wait – did they call themselves Pilgrims?  As it turns out, many of our most familiar names are not what people actually called themselves.

The Pilgrims called themselves Saints.  In practice they were Separatists, because they wished to separate themselves from the Church of England.  Were all of the Plymouth Thanksgiving celebrants Pilgrims?  Not at all.  The Saints were joined on their voyage by Strangers and Adventurers, as William Bradford called them.  A few came to invest in the New World, hoping to find gold or stores of furs.  Others were valued tradesmen – John Alden was a cooper, hired to tend the Mayflower’s cargo.  Myles Standish was a professional soldier, and valued for his military experience.

The Puritans did not want to entirely separate themselves from the Church of England – they wanted to purify it of Catholic-style trappings.  Ornate robes, music, and plaster saints distracted the eye and the mind from worship, and they thought that the Anglican hierarchy was corrupt.  That desire to “purify” the church led to the derisive term “Puritan,” but that is not what they called themselves either.  As early as the 1560s, Puritan writings described themselves as “God’s elect.”

The Puritans applied an insulting name to the Religious Society of Friends that we remember today – Quakers.  Friends, as they called themselves, said that they “quaked before the spirit of the Lord,” so the Puritans called them Quakers, and the name stuck.  The Shakers gained their nickname in a similar manner, because members of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing were said to “shake” when touched by the Holy Spirit.  The Mormons got their derisive name from the Book of Mormon used by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  They prefer to be called “Latter Day Saints” but find Mormon tolerable.

Religious societies are not the only groups to be remembered by a name they did not choose.  When explorers and settlers met indigenous groups, those peoples were often supplied a name for them by their neighbors.  Those neighbors were not always friendly, and neither were the names they supplied to Europeans, but those are the names we remember.  I am most familiar with North American tribal people and names, so here are a few American examples:

“Iroquois” was used by French fur dealers, who obtained the term from Wyandot enemies who called the New York tribes “black snakes.”  The Iroquois prefer Haudenosaunee – “They are building a Longhouse.”

“Sioux” is another Algonkian name for the more westerly Lakota or Dakota tribes, and means “foreign speaking.”  Not necessarily insulting, but true – the Lakota spoke a different language than the Algonkians.

That trend continued across the United States, with one group naming another.  “Navajo” was used by the Spanish settlers in the southwest to describe the Dine, or Children of God, and comes from a Hopi word for “corn stealer.”  It is amazing that the Navajo tolerate that name; the Papago, or “tepary bean eaters” (as the Pima Indians named them) have officially changed the tribe’s name back to the one they prefer: Tohono O’odham.

When asked by the Spaniards who had built the beautiful pueblo ruins which still grace the Four Corners states, the Navajo said it was the “Anasazi” or “Ancient enemies.”  The term Anasazi is now being replaced by “ancestral Puebloans,” because those peoples were the ancestors of today’s Hopi and Zuni tribes.  They don’t wish to have their ancestors described as enemies, and neither would we.

As for personal names, who among us hasn’t been given a nickname they despised?  I will close with a woman near to my heart saddled with an undesirable name – Herodias Long.  Her baptismal record has not been found, and she was called Herodias only on a transcript of her marriage license.  Harwood, Horod, or Horred is the form used on her marriage license allegation, and in contemporary New England records until her children and grandchildren began using the full name Herodias again.

Given the distressing nature of Herodias’ biblical namesake, who instigated the execution of John the Baptist, it is not surprising that Herodias Long contracted her name to a less-recognizable variant.  Did she dislike the name Herodias, and would she have wanted her descendants to call her Horred?  If so, Herodias Long is not the first person – or peoples – to be remembered by a name they did not choose.


1 comment:

  1. This may be an urban legend or even a joke, but the Pima Indians of central Arizona deserts, the ones who built the vast canal systems on the Gila and Salt Rivers, got their tribal name in this way: When the Spanish conquistadors came around looking for gold, they asked, in Spanish of course, the tribal name. The Indians replied, "Pima." In their language, Pima means "Huh? What did they say?"


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