What’s in a name?

When I was in my twenties and still forming my own sense of self, someone told me that because I didn’t have my name given to me in a ceremony at longhouse that the Creator didn’t know who I was. Worse yet, he told me that when I die, I would float around in limbo because the Creator wouldn’t know how to address me to call me home.

While that may be the belief of some founded in true stories of tradition, it was horrific to my personal journey of indigenous identity as a Haudenosaune woman with a white mama. My parent’s union wasn’t loathed and my dad’s family genuinely loved my mother, but at the same time the seventies isn’t known as the generation that was excited about mixed marriages of any kind. As a result my “half-breed” siblings and I were excluded from that ceremonial rite of receiving our names, unfortunately with no hope of changing that for the future generations.

Perhaps that played into my choices when I was looking for a husband. I intentionally pursued an indigenous man hoping that my future children wouldn’t endure the inner conflict that I had. Seeing as how I was not ceremonially named or adopted into the longhouse, my descendants will unfortunately follow the path of the disinherited…unless something changes.

Not that I have any answers here. The conversation has been going on since white people and Haudenosaune started having babies together: what are they? When the adoptive clan system of our nation was in effect there was protocol for children such as myself and my descendants. But as an adult when I looked into it I was met with a clear response: simply stonewalled…there is no adoption.

It’s a really taboo subject to discuss out loud. If babies are born to Haudenosaune mothers with white men, they are sometimes granted a nation, a clan, and a name through ceremony. Less likely if the child is born from a white mother and a Haudenosaune man. Similarly, what about “full blooded” Haudenosaune who lost their lineage because of colonization, or children from Ojibwe mothers and Haudenosaune fathers?

It seems then our personal names as well as our national names are thus unclear. So what are we? There are some imaginative labels out there: Pottawatahawk, Ojidaga, Cayugish, Senegese? Where do our identifiers come from now? Traditionally indigenous people’s names were related to the place they came from. Ononda’gega were the “people of the rolling hills” for example, because they lived in territory where that was an environmentally prominent feature of the landscape. Other nations names could translate in their own language to suit that territory, such as the “people who live where the fresh and salt waters mix” and so on. If that is the case, what could we at Six be? Sadly for us, the political and geographic topography both point to “muddy waters”.

Logic says that inter-nation mixing on the maternal line in a matrilineal society makes the bloodlines watered down. I believe that is something strong to consider. “Blood is thicker than water” as the saying goes. But what if the child from the white father/Haudenosaune mother just has no intention of participating in the culture? And what if the child of the white mother/Haudenosaune father becomes a fluent language speaker seeking to make peace with all? Are they less Haudenosaune than the former? Furthermore…who gets to decide?

It’s all so confusing, there is no clear answer and I believe we are not alone in confusion. I’ve met matrilineal Haudenosaune families who feel very badly for their mixed Haudenosaune ‘cousints’ who fall into this ‘limbo’ territory. Truth be told I think everybody feels badly about this situation no matter what side of the bench you sit upon because almost everybody on Six is potentially related to somebody in ‘limbo’. What can we do?

The Creator established four pillars with the Haudenosaune people for us to rely on: Ganohonyo’k, Ganohkwa’sra, Ganigohiyo and Gayenesragowah. In English these things are Thanksgiving, Loving One Another, Using a Good Mind, and Following a Way of Peace with all mankind. These things are central to what founded Haudenosune identity in the beginning and they are still accessible daily if you seek them out.

One thing I do know, is that even if I missed out on my naming ceremony there is still ample opportunity for me to live my life following the way of peace that is central to being a Haudenosaune person. Even if the political waters are muddied from colonization, it is better to go forward once your own little puddle has cleared than to hold fast until the entire waterway has settled. For now if that is how it has to flow let it be, and hold faith that even in limbo the Creator knows your name.

Related Posts


  1. So are we not disregarding the Creators words by not “following a way of peace with all mankind”? By thinking we are superior to those who were not given a name in longhouse? I think the Creator knows who we are, after all he Created all life.

  2. My girlfriend married from one tribe to another, divorced and is still living on the rez of her ex where she is raising her kids but she doesn’t know how long she can live there. It’s a scary situation. There is no common law rights. If they kick her off the rez she’s got nothing. She contributed to the community while married. They ran a store together. Right now she’s in a legal limbo.

  3. Don’t let anyone tell you we don’t adopt. Our ancestors adopted captives into our communities. These people became fully functioning and respected members of the community. Given full rights and benefits accorded to everyone. Modern markers of identity like blood quantum, hair, eye, and skin color had no part to play in this tradition. What was important was bringing balance back to the community, thus ensuring survival.

  4. I’ve always wanted to know this too, I have an Ojibwe mother and a Cayuga father and I’ve always wanted to be involved in my Cayuga side

    1. that is the same with my husband. He is Potawatomi on his moms side and Mohawk on his fathers side. We’re both Six Nations born and bred and yet, even though we pursue a life living Haudenosaune values and honouring the traditions we have not been granted to participate in ceremonies. Its very upsetting at times, mostly because I want my children to know how to give thanks. I am raising them Haudenosaune, but we are missing the ceremony because of the current protocol.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *