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Updated February 14, 2024

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Native Americans were the indigenous people who inhabited the Americas long before Europeans set foot on North or South American soil. American Indians consisted of hundreds of tribes and communities, often peacefully interacting to trade, marry, and share resources.

Today many people lump all Native American names together or may only be aware of a few tribes or nations; however, there used to be hundreds of clans, each with its own language, traditions, religions, and culture. 

When English and other European individuals began to conquer and settle the Americas, some individuals adopted Western surnames while others used last names indicative of their tribe. 

It can be challenging to find the meaning of some Native American last names. Unfortunately, many Indigenous last names, languages, and much of their culture have disappeared through conquering, re-settlement, and Anglicization. However, we have compiled a list of some of the most common last names amongst American Indians today and their meanings.

Cherokee Last Names

The Cherokee People are indigenous to the Southeast woodlands of what is now the United States, primarily in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. 

  1. Ahoka - "The district."
  2. Awiakta - "Eye of the deer."
  3. Catawanee - The meaning of this name isn’t clear, but it’s believed to come from a clan in the Cherokee Nation.
  4. Chewey - Possibly a version of an Old French name or a version of the English name Chevy.
  5. Oowaite - Uwaite or Waite, a variation of this Cherokee last name, was the surname of the Cherokee Nation and General leader during the Civil War, Stand Waite. 

Apache Last Names

The Apache originally resided in what is now the South Western United States. The Apache consists of several groups, including the Chiricahua, Jicarilla, Lipan, Mescalero, Mimbreño, Ndendahe, Salinero, Plains, and Western Apache clans. 

  1. Altaha - Possible a derivative of Greek or Latin meaning high or elevated for people who resided in the mountains. 
  2. Cosay - This name was common among Apache who lived on the White Mountain Apache reservation. 
  3. Dosela - A common Apache last name. 
  4. Mescal - A common name among people from the Mescalero clan. 
  5. Tessay - A name given to residents of the White Mountain Apache reservation. 

Navajo Last Names

The Navajo tribes originally inhabited the Southwest regions of the United States. The Navajo are the second largest recognized tribe in the United States, with more than 300,000 registered members.

Currently, most Navajo live in areas of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. Their native language is Navajo, but many also speak English and Spanish.

  1. Acothley - This Native American name means "cowboy."
  2. Begay - Derived from the Navajo word biye, which means "his son."
  3. Benally - This name comes from the Navajo word binali, which means "his grandchild" or "paternal grandchild."
  4. Bylilly - This unique name means "magical power. "
  5. Hatahali - This name means "medicine man."
  6. Etsitty - This surname means "to pound."
  7. Nez - This last name means "tall or big."
  8. Tsinajinnie - This unique last name means "black-streak clan. "
  9. Tsosie - This Navajo name means "slender or slim."
  10. Yazzie - This name comes from the Navajo word yahzi, meaning "little."

Sioux Last Names

The Sioux consist of several tribes, predominately the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota. The Sioux were known for being skilled warriors.

  1. Angpetu - this last name is also a girl’s name. It means "radiant" or "daytime."
  2. Anoki - "Actor" in Sioux language, signifying someone who is likely to assume different roles or be expressive.
  3. Canowicakte - "Forest hunter," denoting a person connected with nature and skilled in navigating and living off the land.
  4. Chaska - This Dakota last name means "son."
  5. Enapay - "Brave," representing someone who is seen as courageous and heroic in their actions or spirit.
  6. Galihai - A Sioux last name that means "gentle" or "delicate."
  7. Howahkan - Meaning "mystic voice," this name suggests a person of significant influence and someone who may be responsible for carrying and passing on traditions.
  8. Ishtasapa - This name means "dark-eyed".
  9. Maka - A Lakota surname that means "soil, ground, or earth."
  10. Mato - "Bear," a name that symbolizes strength, introspection, and leadership.


native american heritage

Westernized Native American Surnames

The Europeans began inhabiting North America in the 16th century, often interacting with Native American tribes along the North and Southern east coasts. As a result, when some American Indians began adopting Westernized surnames, they chose or were assigned Hispanic, English-based, or Anglicized family names.

  1. Alexander - A Scottish last name that means "defender of man."
  2. Edwards - A traditional English patronymic last name meaning "son of Edward."
  3. Eubank - Someone who lives near a group of trees. It is derived from the English word "yew" for a tree.
  4. Deere - A name with Irish roots meaning "dear or precious."
  5. Gaylord - A variant of the name Gaillard means "high-spirited or cheerful."
  6. Hensley - An English-inspired name that means "stallion or horse."
  7. Holt - A German-inspired last name referring to "a small grove of trees."
  8. Paddock - This name comes from the Old English parrock meaning "small enclosure."
  9. Thunderhawk - This surname combined two English words and was common among hunters. 
  10. Welch - A name derived from the Old English word for the Welsh or "foreigner."

Native American Surnames

Native American surnames offer a glimpse into the rich tapestry of indigenous heritage and culture. Each name carries with it a narrative of ancestral lineage, a testament to the resilience and enduring spirit of Native Peoples. It is our hope that this collection not only serves as a resource for understanding but also as an inspiration for all to honor and preserve the legacy of North America's original inhabitants.

L. Elizabeth Forry

About L. Elizabeth Forry

L. Elizabeth Forry is an Early Childhood Educator with 15 years of classroom… Read more

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