Names tell us who we are, and impact the way others see us. Discussions of my blog’s name, my own name and Indigenous naming practices after the jump!

Naming My Blog

I decided to name my blog Illuminative or Illumi-native because I liked it. I have to be honest, I didn’t come up with the name myself but instead used one of those business name generators.

The “native” part of Illuminative comes from the fact that I have Indigenous heritage and that I am studying Aboriginal Studies in post-secondary school. Therefore, almost everything in my life and everything I write about will be somehow informed by these two things.

The first half of my blog name is inspired by the word “Illuminate” which has a few different meanings:

  1. Light up! (or decorate with lights)
  2. Decorate (a page or letter) with gold/silver or coloured designs
  3. Help to clarify or explain

In my opinion, my blog exemplifies all of these things at once. First of all, it might seem cheesy,  but the light from your laptop, tablet or phone as you read this is decorating your face with light. Secondly, this blog will eventually come to showcase my photography and art and therefore it will be decorated! Finally, through this blog I hope to clarify and explain my perspectives and Indigenous issues in general.

Indigenous Naming Practices

I have to admit, I didn’t know much about Indigenous naming practices before attempting to write this post. I did know a bit about Inuit practices though.

What is interesting about the Inuit (along with some other Indigenous groups) is the lack of a surname. In a post-colonial society your last name is very important for administration purposes, it is difficult to imagine a society in which this was not the case. Also, traditionally the Inuit would be named after someone in the community who had recently died. All names were gender neutral, but if you were named after someone who was the grandmother to someone else they would walk around calling you “grandma”.

To learn more about naming practices in my own culture I relied on this source from the University of Calgary. According to them, Cree names were given through ceremony when an infant reached 1 years old. The baby’s grandfather or an elder in the community would be given offerings of tobacco and asked to name the child before the ceremony. However, because this name was so special it wouldn’t be used outside of formal ceremonies and instead the child would be called nicknames based on their gender, appearance or personality.

Post-European Names

With the arrival of European fur traders there came the Metis and a whole new set of names for Indigenous people in general. According to that same source Indigenous people often had a “European name” in addition to their Aboriginal nicknames and traditional names. This could be an actual name given to them at birth, as is the case of many Metis people, or it could have been an anglicized version of their Aboriginal nicknames or ceremonial names.

When it came to surnames the Metis people often used the word “dit” to signify which family they were from because so many surnames were similar in the Metis community. For example, one of my own ancestors had the name “Isabelle Cayen dit Boudreau” which meant that she was Isabelle Cayen but of the Boudreau branch of the family. As European settlement continued many Indigenous people were given surnames in cases where they did not have them. The Inuit , and I am sure other groups as well, were forced to take the first name of their father/husband as their family name. Often this family name would be translated or anglicized as well. In other cases, Indian agents would use their own last or first names to fill out forms.

Modern names are so important to us as individuals. Mothers spend months of their pregnancy deciding how they should name their child. What is really unfortunate is that a lot of traditional and spiritual methods of naming were taken away from Indigenous people through colonization. This meant a significant change in who they were and how they saw themselves.

My Own Name

To end on a slightly happier note, I wanted to tell you how my parents picked my own name.

My first name is Hali (pronounced exactly as it is spelt, no ‘Hailey’s around here) which according to my mother is originally greek and refers to “the sea”. She picked this name because she couldn’t swim and wanted me to be able to. Jokes on her though, because I never really learned to swim either.

My middle name is Reine. Which relates to the French word for Queen. Apparently my mother wanted me to be the “Sea Queen”, which is kind of hilarious considering I’m anything but underwater royalty. My middle name is also taken from Reine Lagimodiere who is one of my ancestors and was apparently the first European woman born in western Canada (But by their standards Western Canada was Manitoba).

I’ve never really had many nicknames honestly. My first name is already too short, but some people have called me “Hal”. Some of my family members call me “Reinebow” or “Hali Berry”. One of my younger sisters calls me “Hool”, and I’m not sure why.

What are some of your nicknames? And what are the naming traditions in your family or culture? I’m very curious to know in the comments below!