Road Trip Roundup: Sakakawea

Sakakawea statueWhile in Bismarck, we walked around the North Dakota State Heritage Center Museum, which was very close to the capitol building.

One of the exhibits was on Sacagawea.

Except…that’s not what they call her in North Dakota. They prefer Sakakawea. (And it’s not just a preference; it’s the official spelling.)

From one of the displays in the museum:

What’s in a Name?

Two hundred years after Sakakawea was mentioned by name in the journals of Lewis and Clark, the debate over the spelling and pronunciation of her name continues. This issue was confused from the beginning, since the journals spell her name almost a dozen ways, and all are phonetic translations of an unwritten language. There is also debate over whether her name is Shoshone or Hidatsa. Some argue that she would have been given a new name when adopted into the Hidatsa tribe. Some have adopted the spelling Sacajawea, a translation of the Shoshone name Boat Launcher. Other groups, such as the federal government, endorse the spelling Sacagawea from the Hidatsa name for “Bird Woman.” Since the early 1900s, North Dakota has used the alternative spelling of Bird Woman, Sakakawea. These are all imperfect approximations of her real name. Captain Clark avoided the pronunciation issue by calling her Janey.

The spelling “Sacajawea” has appeared on the SSA’s list twice so far…

  • 1975 – 5 baby girls named Sacajawea
  • 1976 – 7 baby girls named Sacajawea

…but no other version has ever been popular enough to make the national list.

[What’s this road trip all about?]


One thought on “Road Trip Roundup: Sakakawea

  1. Related name (sort of): Randy’L He-dow Teton, the Shoshone-Bannock/Cree woman who modeled for the US Sacagawea dollar coin.

    Her father’s name is Randy Leo Teton — I’m assuming this is where her first name came from.

    Her given middle name is He-dow, which is pronounced he-dough in the Shoshone language and means meadowlark, while in the Bannock language it means “close to ground” and is pronounced hi-though.

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