American Names and Their Native American Origins: Background information when reading Blasphemy

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New and Selected Stories

by Sherman Alexie

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  • First Published:
    Oct 2012, 480 pages
    Oct 2013, 480 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elizabeth Whitmore Funk

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
American Names and Their Native American Origins

When reading Sherman Alexie's stories it's hard to not think about the ways that Native American language has been adapted and used by white settlers and contemporary multicultural America. Many American place names originated in Native American languages, though spelling, pronunciation, and other linguistic qualities have been adjusted and modified. Scholarship on the etymology of such names is often tricky, and occasionally defaults to guesswork where evidence is scarce. Some names, though, have fairly direct origins.

Chief Seattle Alexie's hometown of Spokane, for example, is named for the Spokane tribe that Alexie's mother is a part of. In the Salish languages of the Pacific Northwest, Spokane translates to mean "children of the sun" or "sun people."

The city where Alexie now lives received its name from a Duwamish and Suquamish tribal leader whose name has been translated as Sealth, Seathle, Seathl, and See-ahth, which eventually became Seattle. Chief Seattle had a significant ...

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