British Columbia

B.C. linguist writes baby naming guide for Carrier people, after years of research

Linguistics scholar Bill Poser recently published a book of Carrier names, which he hopes can serve as a reference for Indigenous parents who want to highlight their children's cultural roots with their names.

Bill Poser hopes his booklet also helps people discover the meaning of their native names

A booklet of baby names in the Carrier language — or Dakelh — has been published by Carrier Sekani Family Services. (Carrier Sekani Family Services)

Choosing a name for a new baby can be a tough decision, but a northern B.C. scholar has tried to make this important task easier for Indigenous parents who want to emphasize their children's cultural roots.

Last week, Prince George linguist Bill Poser published a booklet of baby names in the Carrier language — or Dakelh — with Carrier Sekani Family Services, after years of research and consultation with elders.

"Fewer and fewer [Carrier] people know the language, and fewer and fewer of the names are being passed down that way," Poser said to Matt Allen, guest host of CBC's Daybreak North

Poser, who is originally from Vermont and holds a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been studying Carrier linguistics since 1992. He says his interest in the language stems from a passion for its unique sound system. 

The former professor at the University of Northern British Columbia says he wrote the guide because a number of his Carrier friends have been interested in naming their children in their ancestors' language, but they didn't know where to start looking for potential names. 

Poser finished writing the naming guide in 2012, but it wasn't published until recently. 

Among the common Carrier names listed in the booklet are Ditnan, which means "thundering", Whutl'at, meaning "end of the lake"; and Yak'ushun, meaning "song in the sky."

The booklet contains lists of Carrier names borrowed from English and French, and native Carrier names that have rarely been adopted by members of the First Nation since Roman Catholicism came to its territories in the mid-19th century.

Poser says Carrier people may have up to three names in addition to their surname, which is often the father's given name and, due to colonization, originates in English or French, such as Peter, William and Louie.

"The first name a child got was often something having to do with the circumstances of birth," he said.

"If the mother gave birth under a spruce tree, then the child might be named something like spruce tree," he referred to the Carrier native name Ts'oocheh, which literally means "at the base of a spruce tree."

"After a while, a child might switch to another name, which for us would be a nickname that was something about the child, possibly a physical characteristic or a personality trait.

"A young adult person might give himself or herself a new name based on some important experience that would often be something that happened in dream."

Poser uses the name of Soo Yinka Erickson — the daughter of Mavis Erickson, former chief of Carrier Sekani Tribal Council — as an example of a native Carrier name. He doesn't know the story behind her name, but says she is one of the first young Carrier people to have been given a traditional name in modern times.

According to his book, Soo Yinka means "beautiful world" in Dakelh.

In addition to being used as a naming guide, Poser hopes his work might be of general interest to Carrier people who want to learn a bit more about their cultural heritage.

"I hope [many people] will find it interesting just to find out about the old names," he said.

Tap the link below to listen to Bill Poser's interview on Daybreak North:

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With files from Daybreak North