Where did the baby name Morningstar come from in 1973?

Wounded Knee poster (AIM, 1973)

In 1973, from February 27 until May 8, American Indian Movement (AIM) activists and Oglala Lakota occupied the town of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

The standoff lasted 71 days, and both the activists and the federal government were armed. Gunfire wounded several people on each side and ultimately killed two of the occupiers.

The first victim was 48-year-old activist Frank Clearwater, who had hitchhiked to Wounded Knee with his pregnant wife Morning Star, 37. They arrived on April 16, Frank was shot in the head on April 17, and he died in the hospital on April 25. The news of his death was widely reported.

The same year, the baby name Morningstar appeared in the U.S. baby name data for the very first time:

  • 1976: unlisted
  • 1975: 9 baby girls named Morningstar
  • 1974: unlisted
  • 1973: 8 baby girls named Morningstar [debut]
  • 1972: unlisted
  • 1971: unlisted

(The SSA data omits spaces, so some these babies may have been named “Morning Star.”)

Supporters of the Indian movement extolled Frank. The 1973 folk song “The Ballad of Frank Clearwater,” for instance, refers to Frank as an “Apache who longed to be free.”

But Frank’s background remains unclear. Some sources said he was Apache, while others said he was Cherokee. Some sources said he was from North Carolina, while others said he was from from Oklahoma.

One thing that is clear about Frank is his legal name: “Frank J. Clear.”

Morning Star’s name may have similarly been invented. And it’s possible that neither she nor Frank was Native American — that they were simply people who (like Marlon Brando) supported the American Indian Movement, and who chose to go by Indian-sounding names as a sign of solidarity.

We may never know Morning Star’s true identity, or what became of her (or her baby) after 1973. But her name — be it real or assumed — lives on in the U.S. baby name data…


Image: Prevent a 2nd massacre at Wounded Knee (LOC)

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