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What does the name Cherokee mean?

There are many theories on the meaning of the word Cherokee.

For example, the western dialect of the Cherokee does not contain an ‘r’ sound. The origin of this name is possibly from the word "atsila" or the eastern dialect version, "atsira," meaning fire, thus the full meaning could be ‘people of the fire.’ This has been documented from informants in the 1800’s. In the Cherokee language, it is pronounced anitsalagi, meaning Cherokee people.

The Cherokee people call themselves aniyvwiya, meaning the Real People.

The elders tell us Cherokee people historically have also called themselves anigaduwagi, or Kituwah people.

There have been many different spellings of the word Cherokee throughout history and by people of other cultures. Some visitors have even speculated that it is a name given by another Native people, meaning "Cave People" or "People of a Different Tongue."

Other names applied to the Cherokee have been:

  • Allegheny (or Allegewi, Talligewi) used by the Delaware people
  • Baniatho used by the Arapahoe People
  • Caáxi (or Cayaki) used by the Osage people
  • Chalaque used by the Spanish people
  • Chilukki (dog people) used by the Choctaw and Chickasaw people
  • Entarironnen (mountain people) used by the Huron people
  • Gatohuá used by the Muscogee (Creek) people
  • Kittuwa (or Katowá) used by the Algonquin people
  • Matera (or Manteran) (coming out of the ground) used by the Catawba people
  • Nation du Chien used by the French people
  • Ochietarironnon used by the Wyandot people
  • Oyatageronon (or Oyaudah, Uwatayoronon) (cave people) used by the Iroquois people
  • Shanaki used by the Caddo people
  • Shannakiak used by the Fox people
  • Tcaike used by the Tonkawa people
  • Tcerokieco used by the Wichita people.  
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