With the continent of North America very much in the news of late, it is to pre-European days I turn and a look at the origins of the names of the Native American peoples. What I thought would be challenging research, thinking these could have little connection with the Indo-European languages with which I am familair (etymologically speaking), proved less of a problem that I suspected.
Apache is first recorded by the Spanish Conquistadors, who referred to those they encountered as Apachu de Nabajo around 1620. To confuse matters the Spanish later used the same Apachu to refer to other groups they encountered further east and that tends to suggest the word is unlikely to have been how the people referred to themselves. Indeed oral tradition maintains they referred to themselves as Inde meaning either 'person' or 'people' depending on the context. Most consider the Spanish to be from the Zuni word a-pacu which meant 'Navajos' (see below), although some have suggested the Yavapai pace or 'enemy' as an alternative. A third suggestion, the Spanish mapache or 'raccoon', may seem to fit etymologically but has little else going for it.
Arapaho is uncerain, but may be from iriiraraapuhu meaning 'trader' or a Crow word meaning 'tattoo'. They refer to themselves as Hitano'iv 'people of the sky' or Hetanevoeo 'cloud people', while other peoples described them as 'blue cloud men', 'blue sky people', 'pierced nose people', and also 'dog-eaters'.
Cherokee refer to themselves as Ani-Yu-wiya, literally 'the principal people'. Origins of the modern name have many theories, none certain, and include Choctaw cha-la-kee or 'people who live in the mountains', Choctaw chi-luk-ik-bi 'people who live in cave country', or Iroquois Oyata'ge;ronon also 'inhabitants of the cave country'. Sometimes we hear the name of the Cherokee given as Tsalagi but this is the Cherokee name for their own language.
Cheyenne is correctly the collective name given to two Native American tribes: the So'taeo'o and Tsetsehestahese, ostensibly the north and south peoples, tke their names from their name for the Cree language and a name literally meaning 'those who are like this' respectively. The later name of Cheyenne probably comes from a Siouan language meaning 'red-talker' and effectively describing those who talk differently.
Choctaw have been said to take their name from an early leader but more commonly from the phrase hacha hatak which, in their language, means 'river people'.
Comanche is the Ute name for them where kimantsi means simply 'enemy'.
Crow refer to themselves as Apsaalooke or 'children of large-beaked bird' and it was French explorers who translated this as 'people of the crows'.
Illinois is a state which takes its name from the Illinois people. Here their name is an Algonquin word meaning 'tribe of superior men'.
Huron is a name taken from the Algonquin irri-ronon or 'cat nation'> Note some sources give this as ka-ron 'straight coast' and others disagree completely in suggesting this is tu-ron or 'crooked coast'. Also known as the Wyandot people, taken from their language possibly wendat 'forest' or yendata 'village' - the vast difference due to corruption as the trail is followed through the French name of Ouendat.
Ioway, who gave their name to the state of Iowa, take their name from ayuhwa or 'sleepy ones' although they refer to themselves as Baxoje or 'grey snow'.
Kiowa call themselves the Ka'igwu or 'principal people', although earlier this is held to have been Kutjau 'emerging' or Kwu-da 'coming out rapidly'. Possibly the modern form is simply a corruption of their name as no convincing etymology has been suggested.
Mohawk comes from the name given them by neighbouring tribes, where maw-unk-lin or 'bear people'. They refer to themselves as Kanien'keha'ka, which translates as 'flint stone place'.
Mohican take their name from the place where they lived, muh-he-ka-neew referring to 'the people of the great flowing waters'.
Navajo are a Athabaskan people and comes from their language. Here nava 'field' and hu 'valley' is understood as 'large planted field'.
Pawnee refer to themselves as Chaticks si Chaticks meaning 'men of men' - to the French they were Pani which later became a term describing a slave.
Seminole is derived from a Spanish term where cimarron could mean either 'runaway', 'untamed' or 'wild one'.
Shawnee is a Munsee name where sawanow means 'people of the south'.
Sioux is an Algonquian name where natowessiwak meant 'little snakes'.
Swanee could be a corruption of the Spanish San Juan 'Saint John' but this seems unlikely when we have the Suwannee River. This gave the name to the people who could be found alongside the sawani or 'echo' river.
Ute gave their name to the state of Utah and is generally believed to refer to themselves as 'people of the mountain'. However some sources give an alternative, suggesting this is an Apache name where Yudah means 'tall'.
Yaqui call themselves the Hiaki or Yoeme meaning simply 'people'.