Innumerable as the Starrs of Night,
Or Starrs of Morning,
Dew-drops, which the Sun
on every leaf and every flouer
NGC3132 ©
Beauty is truth, truth beauty,
— that is all
Ye know on earth, and all
ye need to know.

E = M

Energy is eternal delight.
William Blake

Impearls: HIC 2.18: Names

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Earthdate 2005-11-12

Names   by A. L. Kroeber

The Yurok avoid addressing each other by name, except sometimes in closest intimacy.  It is the height of bad manners to call a person by name, and a Yurok who is so addressed by an American looks shocked.  Of course, English names and nicknames do not count.  It is not even proper to speak of an absent person by his name before his relatives.  All sorts of circumlocution come into use, many of them known to all the Yurok:  Ehkwiyer omewimar, “Ehkwiyer its old man”; Meta keryern, “the proud one of Meta”; Ra-hiwoi, “(he has his house) on the side of Ra (a streamlet in Murekw)”; and the like.  An old man at Wahsekw was designated by the fact that his house faced upstream.  Most of the following names of the women reputed about 15 years ago the ablest shamans among the Yurok, are of this descriptive type.

At Wahsekw (farthest upstream of the towns mentioned):  Petsi-metl (pets, “upstream”).

At Sa'a:  Sa'-wayo-metl.

At Murekw:  Tsmeyowega and Mureku-tsewa.

At Sregon:  Was-metl and Pekwisau.

At Wohtek:  Kewei.

At Wohkero:  Merit-mela (Merip, a town, presumably her birthplace).

At Sta'awin:  Kosi-tsewa.

At Espau:  Kaircpu and O'men-mela (O'men, a town).

At Tsurau:  Tsurau-tsewa.

Most of the true personal names of the Yurok are untranslatable in the present knowledge of the language, but may have meanings:  Tsinso, Melotso, Ninowo, Penis, Woilo, Tskerker, O'pe'n, Wilets, Kwegetip (“yearling deer”), Petsuslo (“thrown upstream”).  Names like Segep, “coyote,” are of course transparent.

As in all California, an absolute taboo is laid on the names of the dead.  The violation of this constitutes a mortal offense, voidable only by a considerable payment.  We are wont to think of the hardship entailed by such a law on the unwitting and careless; but the Indian, reared since earliest recollection in the shadow of this regulation, makes no mistakes, and when he utters a dead man's name may justly be presumed to do so deliberately.  De mortuis nil, the Yurok would paraphrase our saying, and live up to it with even greater emotional vehemence.  A namesake drops his name at once.  Even words that resemble a name are not used.  When Tegis died, the common word tsis, “woodpecker scalps,” was not uttered in the hearing of his relatives or by them.  Other people, if no tell-tale ill-wishers were about, would be free from such scruple.  Whatever may have been the original basis of the custom, it is clear that its force among the Yurok is now more social than religious.  They no doubt hold that calling a ghost might bring it, but they hardly entertain such dread about the conversational mention of a dead person.

The name taboo has sometimes been invoked as a contributory explanation of the dialectic diversity of native California.  It can not have had much influence.  The custom prevails in the Great Basin, throughout whose broad extent no language is spoken but Shoshonean, and that in only three closely similar forms.  Moreover, the Yurok, and with them apparently many other tribes in California, formally end the taboo at the end of a year, by bestowing the dead person's name on a younger relative or child of the same sex.  A youth abandons his name to assume that of a dead brother, father's brother, or even mother's brother.  This may happen to him several times; but after middle life he changes no more.  Children remain unnamed until after they can walk; sometimes they are 6 or 7 years old before a kinsman's name becomes vacant.  Some sort of designation for them, of course, comes into use, but this appellation is “picked up” for them and not considered their name.  The Yurok state that after a year the family that has lost a relative wishes his name to be out of taboo again.

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