I would like to read more about descriptive personal names, such as "Red Cloud", "His-Horse-is-Crazy", "Salmon Eater", "Twilight Sparkle", "Rainbow Dash", "One who yawns", "Sitting Bull", "One man bucket", "Black Elk", etc. I have been exposed to a term that describes them, but have not been able to discover it through searching. What is the term for these kinds of names?

  • @prash Why not make this an answer? BTW, do you have pointers on the web for the eymology of names.
    – babou
    Aug 11, 2014 at 16:53
  • @babou: done, and mentioned :)
    – prash
    Aug 11, 2014 at 18:34
  • The term I had seen before was aptonym.
    – Iiridayn
    Mar 23, 2018 at 23:37
  • 1
    I only know the German term Sprechender Name for this phenomenon. Oct 20, 2020 at 12:36

3 Answers 3


There's nothing special about them, AFAIK. A huge number of personal names, everywhere, are like that. For example, George (earth-worker) , Alfred (Elf-council), etc. look just as descriptive. Most names are either formed like this, or express some devotional idea. The names you mentioned sound odd to us because their community chose to translate the names into modern English. Translated, your own name, "who is like God?", is not all that different from the names you mentioned.


The term for a name which describes an individual well is "aptonym". All examples provided are "word names". As prash notes, Michael is a Hebrew name meaning "who is like God?". While it may be an aptonym for a preacher, given that it appears to be somewhat of a contraction in Hebrew it would not be a "word name".

Thus, either or both of "aptonym" or "word name".

jk - Reinstate Monica states the German "Sprechender Name", roughly translating to "descriptive name" (literally "speaking name"), is another term for this phenomena.


Native Amerindian names are unique to each person because they are true aptonyms, while the European names are either standardized for the first name or inherited for the last name.

P.S. Names are not descriptive, they are identifying, just like the color of the eyes.

  • 3
    While names are identifying, the question specifically asked about names which are also descriptive. I disagree that Native Amerindian names are unique - it seems unreasonable to assert there has never been more than one "Black Elk" - nor strictly aptonyms.
    – Iiridayn
    Oct 20, 2020 at 1:32
  • Those names are not more descriptive than others, if they were they would not be names but descriptions. You could argue that prisoners ID (#034582) are names that count, but no they just identify. Those names however have a meaning, but so do most names. Oct 20, 2020 at 2:10
  • If there has been more than one "Black Elk" it would be because they had the same personality. I argue that true aptonyms are created for their holders, not chosen from a list or inherited. Oct 20, 2020 at 2:15
  • What personality does "Black Elk" describe? It seems no more linked to personality than Ancient Greek Ξάνθιππος/Xanthippus, "yellow horse".
    – Draconis
    Oct 20, 2020 at 17:45
  • @Draconis when you call someone an animal name in everyday life, it is because of his personality. Oct 20, 2020 at 22:06

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