Monday, March 17, 2014


Q: Hi, I am looking for the name of a great great grandma of mine. She is called See As Kau on the petition of one of the treaties. A person with knowledge of the HoChunk language thought her name may be Siaska of the bear clan. What are your thoughts? Any idea of the meaning and why she was given the name? I would appreciate your input as it took me so many years to gather this information.

A: Seems plausible to us. It's hard to know for sure with proper names from many years ago, since they've usually been written down somewhat randomly by non-native speakers. Siaska means "sweet foot" or "delicious paw," more or less, referring to a bear's paw. But I know from experience how divergent those treaty spellings can get. It could have been Cehaska, "white robe." It could have been Sįaska, "good rice" (though that seems like a very unlikely Siouan personal name-- could have been a nickname though.) It's hard to completely confirm a person's actual name from a single spelling in a ledger. We can agree with your friend that "sweet foot" is a believable name, though! Here's a book where it's listed as a Bear Clan name (spelled Si-asga): The Winnebago Tribe.

Hope that helps, have a good day!
Native Languages of the Americas

Further reading:
Ho-Chunk language
Ho-Chunk tribe
Native American names


  1. Thanks so very much for your response. As this is such a puzzle to me I have been spending years trying to find my Native American grandmother’s name, I finally found the name listed which was anglicized. When it was translated to mean Foot Good to Taste we were wondering why anyone could have been named that way, but Sweet Foot or Delicious Paw sounds much more like a name to have than Foot Good to Taste.

  2. It's listed as "Foot Good to the Taste" in the book link I sent you, too. I think "good to the taste" is just another way of saying "good-tasting" or "delicious." Perhaps this makes more sense if you know that bear paws were considered good to eat.

    "Si" means foot or paw. "Aska" (or "asga") means good-tasting, delicious, or sweet. The idea that it's a bear's paw is implied. Traditional clan names in a lot of Native languages are somewhat elliptical-- if everyone in the clan literally was named "bear," socializing would get pretty tedious. :-) A delicious foot would basically be assumed to belong to a bear-- you don't eat a person's foot, a buffalo's foot, etc. It's like how bird clan names would have "feather" or "wing" in them, wolf clan names would have "tail" or "loping" in them, etc.

    Have a good day!