Inuit people are an ethnic group that span around the Arctic regions from Canada, Alaska, Russia, and Greenland, hence they are diverse in culture and language. They speak what is closely related to North American indigenous dialects. When it comes to Inuit names, words are combined together to form a prosaic phrase – if it were to be translated in English. So it is common to see names which translate into “the brave one,” “placed among the people” or “the highest dreamer.”
A little of history
In the 1940’s Canadian politicians had come up with an idea to use disc numbers which indicate the location and clan an Inuit belongs to. It was branded on a leather tag, made to be worn like a dog tag. Christian missionaries also made Inuits adopt Christian names to irradiate names that are associated with superstitious beliefs. Thus, a girl known in the family as Aput (snow) that was baptized as Isabel, and together with her disc number, can have a full name of Isabel W8-234.
Adopting surnames began in 1969 when educated Intuits realized that using numbers as part of their names is not acceptable among European and American traditions. Therefore, they began adopting a naming system based on patrilineal surnames. Until the present, Inuit peoples keep their number names as well as their Christian names as part of their full legal name.
Inuuit culture in adopting names
Although the Inuit themselves keep legal names similar to those in the south, they still use their native names in the home and within the community. They also believe that they also acquire the power or characteristics of the names given to them. This is the reason why they also tend to accept European or American names to make them “equal” to other races.
As an ethnic culture, children usually take after the names of a dead relative or a revered person. There are actually no boy’s or girl’s names among Inuit children, as it is possible for a boy to inherit his grandmother’s name or a girl named after an uncle. Aside from taking after other people’s names, an Inuit family can pick up other names for their child, based on their own language.
Mythology and folklore names such as Alignak (a lunar god), Ka-ha-si (a boy figure), Kigalitik (a demon) and Wentshukumishiteu (a water spirit) are chosen if the family feels that the child has something in common with the mythical figure. In mythology feminine names emerge such as names of goddesses like Asiaq (a good weather diety). Although this naming method is highly respected in the community, Christian missionaries disapprove this as what they think a practice of shamanism or paganism.
Adjectives such as Amaqjuaq (strong one) or Atanarjuaq (fast runner) can be given if the family wants to highlight a certain capability they want the child to have in the future. Phrases can also be used as to describe the circumstances of the child’s birth such as Asuilaak, “the one that was expected to arrive” or Qikiqtaaluk (big island-birthplace).
In Canada, native names also include common objects such as Kinngait (mountains), Ujarak (rock), Qajak (kayak) or Iglulik (town). Animals are the most common names given to Inuit children as animals are believed to have supernatural abilities. So expect names such as Nanuq (polar-bear), Ulva (wolf), Natsiq (seal) or Aviqming (walrus).
The Inuit culture reflects survival, love for family and reverence for nature. For them, selecting an Inuit name is like mapping out a child’s destiny, especially good in hunting. You can research for names online or ask an Inuit elder or use variations of a word from different Inuit dialects to come out with a perfect name.