What Are The Most Common Native American Surnames?


Most Common Native American Surnames

In tracing one’s family history, many people look to their surname and its origins for clues. However, not all cultures will have the same naming conventions. Those of Native American descent need to search a little farther, as Native American tribes do not have surnames as we know them.

A name had deep significance and power in American Indian culture, regardless of the nation. While there are clan names, there are also the two special names that many tribe members have. These names are chosen for the qualities of their bearer.

Some Native American families have been able to keep these naming traditions, while others have surnames that come from other parts of the world. Keep reading to learn more about how this happened, and what are the most common Native American last names today.

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How Native American Naming Conventions Changed

In tracing one’s family history, many people look to their surname and its origins for clues. However, not all cultures will have the same naming conventions. Those of Native American descent need to search a little farther, as Native American tribes do not have surnames as we know them.

A name had deep significance and power in American Indian culture, regardless of the nation. While there are clan names, there are also the two special names that many tribe members have. These names are chosen for the qualities of their bearer.

Some Native American families have been able to keep these naming traditions, while others have surnames that come from other parts of the world. Keep reading to learn more about how this happened, and what are the most common Native American last names today.

Common Native American Surnames

Most Common Native American Surnames

Because of the difficulty that many English speakers had with pronouncing the letters in traditional American Indian names, some tribes took on English last names for government records. Others have chosen to keep both their traditional names and their Anglicized names.

Some of these names were assigned to their ancestors by the federal government, through the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. This was to give them more Western-sounding names that were far less complex for Americans to pronounce, compared to their names in their native languages.

Some of these recorded surnames may be traditional European names, but others are simply the English words for the places that a specific tribe calls home. Others describe the kind of work that is done by the Native Americans who adopted it as a surname, such as “Maize” for corn pickers.

Regardless of which tribe they belong to, there are many Native Americans who have these surnames. Here are examples of the most common surnames for Native Americans that are not in their native language.

  • Alberty: This is a variation of “Alberti”, a surname of a family that lived in America at the beginning of the 1920s.
  • Bernard or Bernhard: This Germanic name means “as strong and as brave as a bear”.
  • Cornfield: This was primarily taken by those who worked in cornfields.
  • Denton: This name means “one from the town in the valley”.
  • Eubank: An old Anglo-Saxon name taken from the phrase “yew-bank”, which meant someone who lived near yew trees.
  • Gaylord: A name that means “one with high spirits”.
  • Holt: This Old English surname’s meaning is “a small wood or grove”.
  • Paddock: This was primarily taken by those who worked with or had small enclosures for animals.

Sandoval: A common last name in South America, this Hispanic name is formed by the Latin words “saltus” (grove) and “novalis” (newly cleared land).

Common Cherokee Nation Surnames

Most Common Native American Surnames

The Cherokee are a group of indigenous people in America’s Southeastern Woodlands. Cherokee ancestral homelands are located in parts of North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama.

With over 300,000 tribe members, the Cherokee Nation is one of the largest federally recognized tribes in America. Several groups also claim descent from the Cherokee, and over 819,000 people have informed the U.S. Census that they have Cherokee ancestry.

While some Cherokee descendants may have other surnames that sound English, there are many that still proudly use their ancestors’ traditional surnames in official records. Here are the most common Cherokee surnames.

  • Awiakta
  • Catawnee
  • Colagnee
  • Culstee
  • Ghigau
  • Kanoska
  • Lisenbe
  • Nelowie
  • Onelasa
  • Sequoyah
  • Sullicooie
  • Tesarkee
  • Watike
  • Yargee

Common Navajo Last Names

In terms of landmass and enrolled tribe members, this group is the biggest of all the Native American nations. A group that hails from the U.S. Southwest, the Navajo Nation has nearly 400,000 enrolled tribal members. It also has the largest reservation in the country, spanning 27,000 square miles that cover parts of Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona.

These are some of the most common Navajo last names. The pronunciation may differ greatly from the name’s spelling, so consult online resources and tribe records to find out how to say these names correctly.

  • Acothley: This name means “cowboy”.
  • Adakai: This name means “gambling hands” and is taken from “adishka”, which means “to play cards”.
  • Begay: A name that comes from the Navajo word “bite”, which means “his or her son”. This last name was commonly adopted for official records.
  • Bylilly: This surname’s meaning comes from its two syllables, “ba” (or “for him”) and “alilee” (or “magic power”).
  • Claw: This name means “left-handed”.
  • Hatahle: A Navajo word that means “medicine man”.
  • Lapahie: This name means “grey”.
  • Tabaaha: A name which means “shore” or “beach”.
  • Todicheene: This is Navajo for “bitter water people”.
  • Tsinajinnie: This is an established Navajo clan designation, referring to the “black-streak clan”.

Ancient Native American Surnames

While not as common as tribe-specific last names, these deeply traditional Native American surnames have very fascinating stories. Here are some traditional Native American last names and their meanings.

  • Arrow: This name indicates that the bearer may be descended from hunters.
  • Blackrock: This surname is associated with Native American families that hail from areas known for black rocks.
  • Swiftwater: This name was used by Native American families that reside near swift sources of water like rivers.
  • Thunderhawk: This surname indicates descent from someone who holds the combined power of thunder and a fierce hawk.

Common Apache Last Names

The Apache are a group of Southwestern tribes that are culturally related. The Apache are cousins of the Navajo Nation, and their homelands are known as the Apacheria. These areas include parts of North Mexico, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and Colorado. Today, the Apache have reservations in Arizona and New Mexico. The Apache Nations have distinct languages and cultures.

These are some of the most common Apache last names found in government records. To learn more about their history and significance, you will have to dig a little deeper into the tribe that commonly bears this name.

  • Altaha
  • Chatto
  • Chino
  • Dosela
  • Goseyun
  • Mescal
  • Shanta
  • Tessay

Learn More About The History Of Native American Last Names

Many Native American tribes have been able to keep their names in their own language. Many others have Anglicized names on government records. Whatever name each family has chosen to bear, each one reflects the struggles, journeys, and traditions of their ancestors.

You may have recognized your last name here, or have gotten inspired to look up your own name’s history and site of origin. But if you want to do more research into your heritage, you should look through your old family photos!

Have your old photographs restored by a professional photo studio like Image Restoration Center. Once restored and colorized, you can share them with your relatives to find out more about your family. Restored photos are a great way to find out more family stories and get in touch with your roots!

60 Responses

  1. My Great grandpa was William Cummings and is busted in Yadkin county, NC
    Never know able to know about him, our without shows as different than caucasian Olive color and straight hair. Just in my mind

    1. My great grandparents last name was Cummings and they had black hair and olive skin. My family lives in SC…funny coincidence?

    2. My great -grandfather was from Yadkin,NC. He was supposed to be Native American. His name was Laton Cooper

  2. I’m suposed to have a full blooded cherokee grandpa my mom’s dad an his last name and ours me an my mom is mayberry ? Is this a common last name in cherokee history

  3. Im looking for my dad im 32 years old my name is john luke eichenlaub my dads name is Gary Dale Taylor he live in Amarillo Texas i have never Met him or seen a picture of him he is half Cherokee its been 32 years i just want to no how im am please even if he does not want me or see me or talk to me i just want to no he is alive i ask of any one willing to help me …..facebook me ikejohn or john l eichenlaub or my phone number 1 360 544 6607. Thank you

      1. Hello, Sarah. My father’s mother is said to have descended from a Cherokee woman born in North Carolina named Mary Charlotte Grimes (b. 1850’s?) Ms. Grimes married a man named Samuel Elliott. One of their daughters, my great-grandmother [Mary Charlotte Elliott (b. 1879 N.C. d. 1955 W. Va.), married James O. Chambers in 1898. How do I find out if there’s any truth to the Cherokee heritage? Thanks.

  4. I’m trying to find roll numbers for my mom and dads families. All I know is I had great grandparents that were full blood on my dad’s side. Last name was Miller, I believe. And great great grandparents on my mom’s side that were full blood, last name was Marr. My mom once told me that we were Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw. My grandmother on my dad’s side also told me that one of our relatives was an Indian maiden in history books. Her name was Maize.

    1. When I read this I thought of the Indian Maiden that used to be on Land of Lake Butters. I believe her name was Maize, she to be some importance to be on it . Just a thought.

      1. I’m trying to find out where my great grandmother is buried. Delilah Rakes was her maiden name and she was Cherokee. I’m having a hard time finding her. Any help? Her married name was Hampton.

    2. There are Miller’s that are Lenahpi (Delaware) in and near South Coffeyville, Ok in northern Nowata Co. Ok.

  5. I am 67 and all my older ancestors that my mother told me of are dead. My Mom died when I was 17 and it’s my goal to see if Iam part Cherokee before I leave this world. She was from VA/TN (Washington County VA) line area. She said Her mother’s side of the family (Vestals) were from Cherokee lineage. Iam not sure what % grand mother was but a picture of my grandmother sure looks Indian and my mother looked like 1/2 Indian and people have always said I have Indian cheek bones and Indian Nose. Thanks for reading.

    1. AncestryDNA test for under 100 bucks!take it get the results then use their search search engines to find your ancestors living or not. Worked great for me

  6. My grandmother is Mary prince langley Jimerson. Born 1887 to 1954. Some of my other family member did this 1935 judice precincts 1 Cherokee tex 1940. 2 question want to learn if mary p. Langley was Indian which tribe. More on 1935 issue.

    1. I have surnames Prince. I am working on them right now. If they had only left the names alone it would have been so much better

  7. I don’t know much of my grandfather’s ancestry, but supposedly there is Native American on his side of the family. The only relative that may know, she doesn’t tell anyone. She says that there was Native American there. I’m from Southeast North Carolina. I would like to know how to research it without having to pay so much. If anyone has any advice that works please let me know.

  8. I’m interested in the surname “Fountain”. It became “Fowler” through the generations, but I believe our family can be traced back to either Cherokee or Navajo. If anyone has any lineage they might share, I’d be grateful.

  9. I’m supposed to have a great grandmother who was full blooded Cherokee, Dial was the surname, I haven’t been able to find any info on this last name. Is there any way to trace heritage without the dna testing?

    1. By Records, birth/death certificate, military records, us census records, Indian census records, school records, Archive records what state they lived in etc

  10. I have a grandparent whose last name is something like Woodiel. Is that of native Indian last name. We are from Arkansas.

  11. Jeanette Brady was full-blooded Cherokee. Her son, my Grandfather was Joe Fox. He looked like an old Indian Chief. My uncles Joe and Melvin Fox collected Indian artifacts and were rock hounds. They were from Tennessee, Murfreesboro area and eastern North Carolina I am told… Many of my relatives look Cherokee. I was always told my Grandpa was half Cherokee and that the Fox name came from the Fox Indians but idk. I know my Grandpa and his brothers all looked like Indians.

  12. Was there a group of Cherokee that called them selves Blackfoot? My grandmother had the last name of Bowman(boarman). She told my dad she was Blackfoot but also Cherokee. Wonder if there is a tribe called Blackfoot. She was from Kentucky and Tennessee. )

    1. The term Blackfoot or Blackfoot Cherokee is often confusing for many. Typically many nations would inter-marry for peace or trade. This was done to establish a relationship and bond. Blackfoot is not the indigenous name per se. Blackfoot was a term used by Europeans to describe the bottom of the Moccasins when fleeing a raid or times of war. Some nations lived near swamp or wetland that would explain the mud on their feet.

    2. Yes, there is/was a tribe called Blackfoot. Just google it. My mother’s mother’s ancestry goes back to Blackfoot tribe.

  13. My grandmother name was margreat moses she was from kannapolis nc .my mother was told she was Cherokee Indian also .what can I do or find someone. To help me with this thanks .

  14. My mother half Cherokee she decease since 1996 her dad was full blooded Cherokee Indian chef thier 3 generations of my Cherokee chefs my grandpa and my great grandpa and great great grandpa my moms last name russell from her dad Oscar russell I’m so trying to find more out about my grandpa died be I was born in 1967 and thier 6 other siblings say he died before they were born my older sister was born in 1959 said he died before she was born my mom was born in1937 and her mom was born in 1901 I want to know this 😢

  15. Does anyone know how to search for an adopted Cherokee grandmother? The story that has been passed down is that her mother passed away at childbirth, she was adopted by a white family so she had their English name (making tracing difficult). It would have been sometime between 1860-1900. Does any anyone know of a goverment agency or a contact information to Native American data base (s)? Thank you.

  16. There is no birth records for Milicent Monks, my great grandmother, she married a Conite, which was changed to “Canaught and Conite, then changed to Konnight, according to later census, they lived in upstate NY, my mother always said my dad was from a Delaware Reservation, he was from Suffern NY, but I can’t find any info on her or her parents. Anyone have any info they can help me with?

  17. I was told my whole life I was part Cherokee on my moms side and part Black feet on my dads side. I can’t trace it. Supposedly it wasn’t cool to be Native American at some point and sisters destroyed some papers. That means there are records somewhere. It’s breaking my heart that I can’t trace it! Wish I could get one on one help with this.

  18. If anyone knows anything about the name Underwood please let me know! It comes from my daughter’s grandfather on her dad’s side. He is from North Carolina. I would love to know which tribe his family belonged to. Everyone has passed away that would know anything unfortunately. I’m searching around the internet and saw this site so just figured I’d throw it out here! thanks 🙂

  19. My family is from Madison County, North Carolina. Our surname is Crow. I was told that my great grandfather, Joseph Warren Crow was Cherokee. I’m having difficulty confirming this, as everyone who would know, has passed. This is on my dad’s side of the family. My grandfather, Brank Crow, and my dad’s face was red. Where can I find help searching this, without paying an arm and a leg?

  20. My great-grandfather and great grandmother was cherokee had my grandfather that is my mother’s father their name was Russell just putting that out there

  21. My great grandfather Daniel Darius French was in Cherokee army. He was a private . He did a special service for the Cherokee Indians. We believe he was a North American native . But we don’t have a band or registration number. Can anyone help me

  22. My Mom’s Mom was Cherokee and I’m looking and searching to know about that side of my family all I no her name Cecilia Mathews or Matthew’s. Mom name was Mabel Marie Frank-Richard

  23. I am trying to determine if my great grandmother, Susanna Duck, who married Pierre Mahtie (later changed to Mathie), in Ohio was actually Native American. I was told as a child that she was either Sauc or Wyandot. I do not know where she was really from prior to her marriage. I am from Michigan. They moved to Michigan soon after they married in Ohio.

  24. Hello, I’m a 56 yr old women. Never meet my father but my mother told us he’s a American Indian. He passed away in 2003. He was raised in Lincoln Nebraska. His name was Clyde George long he has a brother named Red. I feel like I’m getting to old to ever find the truth. My father remarried but never divorced my mother and left her with six little children all a year apart. The only reason we found out about his death was because the Navy contacted my mother about his death and the monthly checks she would recive because they never legally divorced. He went on to marry a women who had no idea. My father was a truck driver. Who knows I could have half siblings all over America. I pray someone reads this and my know of him. Thank you, Ruth [email protected]

  25. My 3rd g grandfather was 1/2 Cherokee his name is elijah James reeves he was born in greenville so Carolina 1767 looking if anyone has information about him thank you

  26. Hi
    I’m reading a lot of the same questions of
    “How do I trace back Our Native American Ancestry?”
    Well I am joining this group for the same reason.
    I know that I had relatives living in North Carolina on the Indian Reservation and were part of the Trail of Tears…From there I am stuck.
    My Maiden name is Ownbey with a lot of verification of the spelling.
    So does anyone want to share some good websites or information??
    I would be Greatly Appreciative.

    1. If your ancestors were on trail of tears then they settled in OK. Government had several “rolls” which listed tribal members and children for allotment of land before statehood. These were taken in 1890s. Dawes roll is the most famous. Another was the Gideon. Rolls were done up to statehood in1907. These rolls are available on the internet for free. Good place to start.

  27. I’m trying to do a family history on my dad’s parents .
    My grandfather was Eastern Band Cherokee
    My Grandmother was Lumbie / Pembroke Indian

  28. My grandfather was half cherokee. His name was Byrd Kerr. His mom was full blooded and her name was Martha Ann smith.

  29. My grandpa’s name was William Workman, full blood Cherokee, passed in1976 or 1977, Portsmouth OHIO. My mother’s name was Ima Jean Workman. A great grandmother, Addy Diamond. Most relatives born in Louisa Kentucky. Couldn’t find any info. About descendant, wondering if you could point out where I might research this information. Thank you so much.

  30. I’m looking for info,,my 5th grandmother was Catherine Meg, , 1781 to 1848,,married to Henry Peters,, Her son John Lafayette Peter’s is the last I can confirm,, possibly the Moytoy family

  31. Chief Dragging Canoe is one of my great grandfather’s. And others with names, Redwing, Ayers. I have them on both sides. Oh Mourning Dove Calloway is the line I followed to Dragging Canoe. All their names are so creative. I’m Misty Dawn. My mom embraced her Indian genes. So have I.

  32. My family name is Harrison and I was told that my great grandmother whose maiden name was Cook was from Virginia and was Cherokee. How do I find any information pertaining to this please?

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Emily Hutton

As a photographer, a restoration, and a designer, Emily isn't just a jack-of-all-trades, she's a certified expert. She's a tech junkie, and the most screen-addicted member of the IRC team. When it comes to product reviews, her insights and recommendations are second-to-none.

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