Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Naming Poems

By Sharon Flitterman-King, Ph.D.

The Swampy Cree Indians of northeastern Canada have a rich tradition of storytelling. Some of the most wonderful stories are told in their “naming poems,” simple narratives of how people earned their names, often in childhood. Here is an example of a Swampy Cree Naming Poem:


Her name tells of how
it was with her.

The truth is, she did not speak
in winter.
Everyone learned not to
ask her questions in winter,
once that was known about her.

The first winter this happened
we looked in her mouth to see
If something was frozen. Her tongue
maybe, or something else in there.

But after the thaw she spoke again
and told us it was fine for her that way.

So each spring we
looked forward to that.

And here are a few of mine:


She lived 
among the shadows
which she feared.

She lived
among the shadows, loving them
for what they asked
of her.

It was dark,
and it grew darker.
She grew light

And tranquil


He went
out to the mountain, dreaming
of his past

adventures, bold and
such tenderness.

This he leaves,

Try writing your own naming poem; think of something about yourself or another person to use in creating a name—a physical characteristic, personality trait, something you like, something funny, silly or heroic you’ve done.

             “To say the name is to begin the story.”

Sharon Flitterman-King, Ph.D., is a writer who lives in Hillsdale, N.Y., with her husband, David C. King

Reference: The Wishing Bone Cycle: Narrative Poems from the Swampy Cree Indians, gathered and translated by Howard A. Norman.

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