The Shawnee had six name groups with totemic names. These were: Palawi lani,Turkey, representing bird life; Kahgilaywi lani,Turtle, aquatic life; Patakuthidaywi lani ,Rounded feet, carnivores; Msaywaywi lani, Horse, hoofed animals; Theypodewi lani, Raccoon, animals with paws; and Patahginaythi lani,Rabbit, a peaceful nature. At birth a child was given a name by a family-designated name-giver. If the name assigned to an individual was wrong, usually indicated by sickness, the name could be changed to place him in a group more reflective of his nature. A special relationship between name groups existed. Specified pairs of name groups buried one another's dead, for instance. And specific functions might be assigned to a particular name group. The Turtle, for example, normally carried the sacred bundle (a package of ritual paraphenernalia) because he moves slowly and carefully. But name groups functioned primarily as friendship groups and were the basis for joking relationships. Other functions and characteristics normally assigned to clans-blood revenge, mythological ancestory, and unilateral descent-were absent within the Shawnee social structure.


Shawano personal names are nearly all clan names, and by their interpretation the clan to which the individual or his father or mother belongs may be discovered. Thus, when a man is called "tight fitting" or "good fit," he is of the Rabbit clan, because the fur fits the rabbit very tightly and closely. Tenskwatawa comes from the'nui, to be open, and skwa'te, a door. The name Tecumseh is derived from nila ni tka'mthka, "I cross the path or way of somebody, or of an animal." This indicates that the one named belongs to the clan of the round-foot or claw-foot animals, as panther, lion or even raccoon. Tecumseh and his brother belonged to the clan of the manetuwi msipessi or "miraculous panther" (msi, great, big; pishiwi, abbreviated pessi, cat, both combined meaning American lion). So the translation "panther lying in wait,"or "crouching lion," give only the sense of the name, and no animal is named in it. But the msi-pessi, when the epithet miraculous (manetuwi) is added to it, means a "celestial tiger," i.e., a meteor or shooting star. The manetuwi msi-pessi lives in water only and is visible not as an animal, but as a shooting star, and exceeding in size other shooting stars. This monster gave name to a Shawano clan, and this clan, to which Tecumseh belonged, was classed among the claw-foot animals also. The quick motion of the shooting star was correctly likened to that of a tiger or wildcat rushing upon his prey. Shooting stars are supposed to be souls of great men all over America. The home of the dead is always in the west, where the celestial bodies set, and since meteors travel westward they are supposed to return to their western homes. Hence "Tecumseh" literally translated means "Panther Passing Across."

Once a unsoma is established for an infant, it is then the child's obligation, according to Shawnee custom, throughout the remainder of his life, to defend the good-luck genius against any disparagement occurring in social banter by those belonging to other unsoma divisions, and equally defend all other persons belonging to the same unsoma as his own from such disparagement. It becomes a matter of considerable amusement and social sparing during visits among the Shawnees to engage in defaming one another's insoma while, at the same time, protecting their own. It is most often enagaed in during times of pleasant relaxation, as at mealtimes or when groups are gathered about the evening fires for the telling of stories, exploits or news. This business of attacking one's unsoma is always done in a sense of friendly jibing and to be retaliated with similar repartee. The jibes must be taken in good composure and given with the highest degree of humor possible, the retorts to such jibing must be similarly in a humorous vein, and at no time are the remarks to be given or taken as an actual offense. But apart from the joviality, the unsoma is very seriously taken by the individual as his good luck symbol for the rest of his life and anything in his vicinity that affects such a symbol advantageously or adversely is taken as a premonitory as to what the individual's own lot will be in the events that immediately follow. Thus, if before a skirmish or battle, a hawk is seen to capture and kill a rabbit, then the individual with the bird-man unsoma can look forward to good luck, and the one with the rabbit-man unsoma can expect ill fortune in the struggle to follow.

"Marriage Dance"

"To Be Shawnee"(Part 1) [ "To Be Shawnee"(Part 2)

"Shawnee's Reservation"



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