Manataka American Indian Council







What Is Your Spirit Name?


By Linda VanBibber


If you hang out with many First Nations people, you’ll eventually get asked about your spirit name.   One Grandmother, Waynonaha Two Worlds, explains that to a native person, this is much more important than the legal name of a person.  A person’s spirit name tells you something about the person, their personality, their mission in this life.


Because of the importance placed on the spirit name by Native cultures, non-Native people will often refer to their spirit name as their Indian name. 


According to Lakota tradition, the Naming Ceremony was one of the Seven Sacred Ceremonies given by White Buffalo Woman.  One of the many ceremonies offered by Manataka American Indian Council, and one of the most anticipated at every gathering, is the Naming Ceremony.  


Native American’s are not the only people who place great importance on name selection.  All indigenous cultures have, or once had, at least one and sometimes several traditional naming rituals.  The Dagara culture in West Africa ask the embryo at about six months gestation who they are and what is their purpose or message they carry from the realm of the ancestors.  The name and the child’s purpose are recorded by village elders.  The name of the child has a direct relationship to the child’s gifts for the community and serves as a reminder throughout an individual’s life of their mission here.  It also serves to alert everyone in the village concerning the kind of education that the child will require to accomplish their mission and the entire community works to assure that the potential of the child is developed accordingly.


In many indigenous cultures there are multiple naming ceremonies.  The name the child receives at birth may be a ‘nick name’, a name that the child will carry until his true name is discovered as he develops his gifts.  In other cultures an individual may receive a new name at each critical point in life.  A new name is selected when a person makes a commitment to a religious life, regardless of tradition.  A new name is given at each new level of initiation in many religious traditions.


The importance that is attached to one’s name is universal.  In today’s American society many people feel disconnected and many of the events of recent years reflect a longing to connect with their own souls and to discover their purpose in this life.  Accordingly, some people in the dominant culture have studied with indigenous shamans and elders and have brought back many ceremonies which can be used to discover an individual’s spirit name.  Many people who are attuned to spirit simply intuit their spirit names.  Some spirit names are given because of the way a person responded in a life event.


At times the ‘authenticity’ of a spirit name is questioned if it was not bestowed by  a spiritual elder, tribal leader or grandparent.  Manataka does not judge the validity of names given by friends or relatives, or even if the individual adopts the name on their own.   Who can say the name did not come from spirit?


 “In the old days, Grandma and Grandpa would pray for a spirit name for the grandchild and bestow the name at birth or before.  As the child grew and extraordinary events defined the character of the person, the Elders of the village asked the spirits for a new name or an additional name.  Families today live far apart and the naming traditions of old have suffered to the point that many people who walk the Red Road do not have spirit names,”  explains Lee Standing Bear Moore.    


“The need to have a spirit name and not just a legal name is important.  So over time, the Elders of Manataka prayerfully developed traditions for its members,” said Standing Bear.   


At Manataka, the Naming Ceremony is the culmination of the person’s quest for their spirit name.   The individual requesting a name is instructed to create a gift for the Rainbow Woman who is the Spirit of Manataka Mountain.  During the creation of this gift, the person must pray for their name.  The gift is then given to one of the elders at Manataka and is placed on a table for this purpose. 


When elders are going up on the Mountain for ceremonies, they may be drawn to take one of these gifts up to the Mountain.  The gift is offered on behalf of the seeker and prayers for a vision are offered as well.  The Vision which is received by the Elder determines the spirit name of the seeker. 


Names are only given at the gatherings during the Naming Ceremony.   This event is much anticipated by all.  It is a mystical and emotional moment in which everyone feels connected and involved; the feeling is similar to a new birth.  There is that breathless moment of anticipation – who is this new person being named?  What gifts to they bring to the community?   


The Elder presenting the Naming describes in great detail the Vision received from the Mountain before the name is given.  Many times there are tears in response to the great beauty that is shared at these moments.  And often there is a collective sigh in response to the speaking of the new name.   It is a truly beautiful event.


The Naming ceremony is only one sacred ceremony offered by Manataka.  At every gathering there is a Naming Ceremony, a Making of a Relative Ceremony for new members, and a Healing Ceremony.  Sweat Lodge Purification Ceremonies are offered when possible and many gatherings include an Indian Wedding Ceremony.  These ceremonies support the World-Wide community of Mantaka’s membership.  In spirit we gather on the Mountain, even if we cannot be there in body.


Manataka™ American Indian Council is a non-profit, 501(3C), tax-exempt, educational, multi-cultural and religious organization made up of American Indian and non-Indian people dedicated to sharing our understanding of the Spiritual way of Native peoples. Manataka also offers a variety of community services and sponsors several public educational events throughout the year. For more information on Manataka American Indian Council visit