Saturday, May 28, 2016

Pocahontas: What’s in a Name?

         Donald Trump recently called Elizabeth Warren Pocahontas, a name that is offensive in some usages to Native Americans, especially women. Every school child in America knows who Pocahontas was, bur not many know her other names.

         When John Smith met her in 1608, she was a little girl of ten or so. Pocahontas was her nickname. It meant Little Mischief. Her real name was Matoaka, an Algonquin Indian name of unknown meaning. It has been said to mean Bright Stream between the Hills, or One Who Kindles, but who knows? The first record of it is in a letter by a Virginia colonist in 1614, when she married another colonist, John Rolfe. If, as some have suggested, Matoaka was Pocahontass secret name, kept secret by a superstitious fear of hurt by the English, (Samuel Purchas, 1625), we have no proof that this was so. If Pocahontass secret name might cause the English to harm her, why did she let it appear in A True Discourse of the Present State of Virginia, a public relations tract put out by the Virginia Company in 1615?
         Her other name was Rebecca, given her when she was baptized as a Christian in 1614.

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