One day, while wasting time on Pinterest, I discovered a name I’d never seen before: Tsianina (pronounced cha-nee-nah).
The pin was a photo of a Cherokee/Creek woman named Tsianina Redfeather, a performer (mainly singer) who was famous during the 1910s and 1920s. She was born Florence Evans on an Oklahoma Indian reservation in 1882, but “she was known to family and friends by her Creek name, Tsianina.”
Of course I had to check to see if her name had ever appeared on one of the SSA’s baby name lists. Turns out it has. Tsianina appeared only once, in the late 1990s:
- 1999: unlisted
- 1998: 5 baby girls named Tsianina [debut]
- 1997: unlisted
The inspiration here is an entirely different Tsianina: actress and fitness model Tsianina Joelson.
In 1998, Joelson was one of the co-hosts of MTV’s The Daily Burn — a re-brand of The Grind (1992-1997) that lasted only about a year.
These days, Joelson is best known for portraying Queen Varia during season six of Xena: Warrior Princess. In an interview with a Xena fansite, here’s what Tsianina had to say about her name:
Q: I did have a question about your name. I’ve tried to look up exactly how to say it….
A: (laughs) It’s pronounced Cha-neena like c-h-a Cha-neena.
Q: That’s what I thought. Was it hard on you growing up with people spelling it and saying it wrong all the time?
A: From the time I was a little girl I was always very proud of my name, I don’t know why. I liked that it was different. Every day I get asked so I’m very used to it and it doesn’t bother me at all and it never has. When I was little I was more apt to correct you on saying my name properly and now people mess it up all the time and – whatever. I answer to pretty much anything. I’ve always liked having a different name. I love my name. When I first moved out here, my manager said you need to change your name. Like, no. She wanted me to change the spelling so it sounded phonetically, you know, the way it’s spelled. It’s actually Cree [sic] Indian, and it means wildflower. I like it. It’s different.
Q: I think it’s a very pretty name. Yeah, once you figure out how to say it.
A: Thank you. Yeah, exactly, I know. On my resume, I have it phonetically and even then people don’t get it.
I’ve seen the “wildflower” definition elsewhere as well, but haven’t been able to verify it.
Even though only 5 Tsianinas are accounted for on the SSA’s list, dozens of other women have gotten the name. Most of these Tsianinas, like Tsianina Redfeather, were born in Oklahoma. Here are a couple of examples I particularly liked:
- Tsianina Tobacco (b. 1952 in Montana)
- Tsianina Jodeci Harris (b. 1994 in Texas)
What are your thoughts on the name Tsianina?
- Bataille, Gretchen M. and Laurie Lisa, eds. Native American Women: A Biographical Dictionary. New York: Routledge, 2001.
- Pauelle, Florence Jessica and Brianna Leigh. “Interview with Tsianina Joelson.” Whoosh! Sept. 2004.