In native Yupik villages, it is common for everyone to have an English (or kassaq- pronounced “guss-ick” meaning white person or Caucasian) name as well as a Yupik one. When teachers and other outsiders such as myself come to live in the villages, we receive a Yupik name. It works differently depending on where you live; some villages name you right on the first day, whereas others wait until the get to know you to bestow you with a name.
Yupik names can be a word that describes your personality, something you like, or it could be the name of someone who has passed away. Both Nathan and I have received names, and for different reasons.
Nathan’s Yupik name is Yaqulpak (pronounced ya-gush-buck) which means “Eagle”. He was asked what his favorite animal was, and that was the name they bestowed upon him. He had some trouble pronouncing it, and the kids are really sticklers for correct pronunciation, but everyone tries to help us out in good spirits.
My Yupik name is Amlliq (pronounced um-sh-k) and means “a great step forward” I have been told. I looked it up in the Yupik dictionary and found that it does mean a step, and in some cases it can refer to a legendary fish monster. Pretty cool, in my opinion.
There was an Elizabeth in the village who had passed away, and Amlliq was her Yupik name, so it was passed on to me because we share the same English name. When they pass on a name, they say that it makes that person live on, and others will actually address you by the relationship they had with the other person, be it mother, sister, etc. I was really touched when they gave me my name, and was also excited that I was able to pronounce it correctly the first time!
The language uses a lot of deeper throat sounds and requires you to move your tongue in ways I am not used to, having grown up speaking only English, and a little bit of French. For example the “ll” makes a sound similar to the “sh” in English, but there is a kind of lisp to it as well. I don’t know of any way to denote that phonetically, and I had to be instructed on how to hold my tongue to make the right noise. Also the “iq” makes a “k” sound, but it is almost like you are swallowing the letter. It is placed very far in the back of your throat. To hear natives speak so smoothly, I can only hope someday to sound as good- right now I am really rough and have to think a lot about the sounds, making it a jarring experience where I sound like I am choking about half the time. There is a whole section of the dictionary that I have downloaded that pertains to the phonetics of the language, and where the words come from, that I am going to find very helpful I think.
Moving out here I thought I would pick up the language right away, but I was mistaken. It is nothing like learning in a classroom, and it isn’t a total immersion experience either. I am picking up words here and there, and as I interact with the kids, they teach me when they have the patience. I think the dictionary I found is going to satisfy a lot of my curiosity as well.
Do any of you have great stories about your birth name, or names given to you later on in life? There is so much wrapped up in a person’s name, and I would love to hear your stories in the comments!