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Falling in Love with an Authentic Name

A name.

I needed a name for my next book.

Actually, I didn’t need 1 authentic name, I needed 12!

After my first 2 young adult books that included one girl, Spupaleena, I got a harebrained idea to have her race horses like Native men have done for years during our Ferry County Fair––Indian Relay.

Of course, there was no such thing in the mid-1800s, but what if….?

What if a Native girl jockeyed against boys….

…who wanted her to compete against them as much as they wanted to be bitten by a rattlesnake…

…and what if her father forbade it…

…but she did in any way because she wanted to grow up and prove herself worthy as a young woman in a man’s world…

Sound familiar?

Don’t we all want to feel treasured and “good enough?”

Which leads us to every author’s question…what makes a main character worthy? What makes her name stand out? How does the name connect to the story? Is there an author connection?

My characters were Native American and from the Arrow Lakes band of the Colville Reservation. I dug out the book I had created after studying the Lakes language with elder Marguerite Ensminger.

For book 1, Change of Heart, I needed a girl’s name for my main character.

I ran my finger over animal names. Many traditional Lakes names were animals. Animal or references to nature like wind and rain and lightning. My husband’s Indian name is thunder and lightning. It suits him because he is a strong leader. Fearless.

I searched for a name that sounded strong and rolled off my tongue like warm sap. My finger stuck to Spupaleena, meaning rabbit. How did I view a rabbit?




Which pretty much described my main character.

In the 3rd book, I needed her teammate’s names. And her brother’s and antagonist’s teammate’s names. I needed 12 of them.

Then it hit me.

Why not use my son’s names for Pekam’s team, Spupaleena’s brother.

What about my grandkids’ names for Spupaleena’s teammates.

Here’s how they look in Heart of Passion:

“What do you think so far, Jack?” Phillip turned the parchment toward the lantern so Jack could get a better look.

“I think she’ll like it.” He picked up the paper, holding it out of Delbert’s pudgy reach.

Spupaleena’s teammates: Three feathers/three crosses—purple

Ta huht Skumhist –  Sugarbear

Hun han neekun – Bug

Kookyuma In-tee-tee-huh – Small Salmon

Chy chy pum Sn’e – Screaming Elk

Pekam’s teammates: Hand on rump—blue

Kookyuma Yaw Yat – Tiny but Strong

Quill Say Ups – Red Tail Hawk

Kelowna – White Grizzly

Seelwha Sn’e – Big Elk

Hahoolawho’s teammates: Circle around eye—red

Pelpalwheechula – Butterfly

Ska ka ka – Chicken

Swas Kee – Blue Jay

Toople – Spider

Jack chuckled. “Yeah, I think this will do.”

“I still have two more teams to add, but I need more names and translations from Spupaleena.” Phillip rubbed ink off his fingers with an old tattered cloth. He tossed it on the table and took a swig of lukewarm coffee. He fingered the cup. “I think I need one more symbol as well…”

Relation to Spupaleena’s team:

Ta huht Skumhist –  Sugarbear is my granddaughter Skyla Sugarbear. She was named after my daughter-in-law’s mother, whose nickname was Sugarbear. The two will someday meet in heaven.

Hun han neekun – Bug is after my oldest granddaughter, Naomi…who we have always called her Naomi bug, which stuck as her Indian name.

Kookyuma In-tee-tee-huh – Small Salmon is my grandson Carter Lewis (after my dad Lewis). I gave him the name small salmon because when our son told us he was expecting, he said, “Rachelle and I’ve spawned an offspring.” I found that fitting.

Chy chy pum Sn’e – Screaming Elk is my grandson Eddy Screaming Elk Morrel Cohen. Try learning that name as a kindergartener! He’s an exceptional reader and leader at age 13.

Relation to Pekam’s (Bobcat) team: My grandson Cameron is Bobcat, who was named after this book was released.

Kookyuma Yaw Yat – Tiny but Strong is my youngest son Marshall who received his name because as a preemie was born weighing 2 ½ pounds. He just had a son, Asher, who is now 4 months old. Asher’s Indian name is Running Elk, who appears in my new release Hannah’s Journey.

Quill Say Ups––or Pia––Red Tail Hawk is my son Cody who was born with reddish hair. His grandmother, Mary who is a full blood Colville Indian, gave him his name.

Kelowna – White or Wild Grizzly is my son Corey. His grandmother Mary named him. This name fits him as he is our oldest, displaying a quiet strength. He is fearless, yet cautious.

Seelwha Sn’e – Big Elk is my step-son Eddy who is a strong leader among his brothers and his family.

My granddaughter Rylin also came after the release of Heart of Passion, but her name appears:

Hahoolawho’s teammates: Circle around eye—red

Pelpalwheechula – Butterfly. Or in Okanogan is Pelwecia, which is Rylin’s middle name.

Nine of my characters came alive through my sons and some of my grandkids.

They walked and talked.

They found love. Lost love.

They rode.

Yes, I needed an authentic name. 12 to be exact.

And I found them within my family.   

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  1. Names are key, aren’t they? I recently read a book where almost everyone had 2 names, like Elizabeth and Liz. It took a lot of remembering. But your Indian names add authenticity to your work and puts the reader right “there.”

    1. Carmen Peone says:

      Thank you, Mary. I never expect anyone to know how to pronounce the names, but to just have fun with it and make up their own nicknames. For instance, Spup for Spupaleena or Hal for Hahoolawho. Picking out names can really be fun.