What missionary CW “Simo” (Simon) tells us about Native people’s names

How do you say “Simon” in French?

9780803277052_p0_v3_s550x406 Peter Seymour’s stories are a must-read (image credit: Barnes & Noble)

This seemingly irrelevant question has quite a lot to do with Chinuk Wawa history, and with First Nations people’s modern names.

We’re fortunate to have a lot of written records of BC CW, including quite a bit of Bible-related stuff, so we can research this.

Most frequently, “Simon” is Simo, as in the following excerpt from a Bible chapter that’s summarized (not completely translated into Chinook) — 

<Thursday. Luk. 4.>

Ankati ShK mituit, pi iaka klatwa
Long ago Jesus got up, and he went 

klahani kopa aias haws, pi iaka
out from a big house, and he 

klatwa kopa Simo iaka haws.
went to Simon‘s house.

Less common is Simio: 

<H. Gospel. Luke. 2.>

Ankati, pus klaska lolo ShK kopa
Long ago, when they were bringing Jesus to 

styuil haws, Shosif pi Mari ayu tomtom
the church, Joseph and Mary were thinking 

kopa ukuk wawa klaska kolan kata alki
about that voice they had heard saying how 

ukuk klaska tanas.
this child of theirs would be. 

Pi Simio iaka mamuk blis klaska pi
And Simeon blessed them and 

iaka wawa kopa Mari iaka mama:…
he said to Mary his mother:…

Found just once in the sample that I consulted today is Simon:

Iaka chako kopa Simon Pitir.
He came to Simon Peter. 

Pitir wawa kopa iaka:
Peter said to him: 

= Ikta taii, maika mamuk wash naika lipii?
What is it, chief, are you going to wash my feet?

So it’s clear that the French-speaking missionaries who did so much work in the Pacific Northwest’s Indigenous communities left their mark. 

Simo and Simio represent French Simon & Siméon, with the usual CW de-nasalization seen in that final vowel. 

Simon shows a bit of influence from the locally spoken English, perhaps, and from written French.

(An even clearer English influence is in the variant Saimon that I’ve seen a couple of times in the Kamloops Wawa newspaper.) 

The direction I want to take this in, anyhow, is to emphasize that a common baptismal name in Indigenous communities, especially southern Interior Salish ones of BC and Washington, was pronounced Simo. In many or most cases, it was probably bestowed in a ceremony where the priest was speaking Chinuk Wawa. 

And that became a family name in these communities, just as other baptismal or “Christian” names did, such as Bob, Jimmy, and Peter. 

Somewhere along the line, as English-language influence grew, many Indigenous people’s family names got reinterpreted. A beloved Native radio host who passed on recently had the last name of McKosato, a fully Aboriginal name that got taken as Scottish! 

And Shanti-Man (‘song-man’, from the usual Jargon term for a local Catholic leader in BC Native villages) came to be “Sundayman”. 

Likewise, Simo came to be understood as if were Indigenous people’s pronunciation, not of a French name that most English speakers were unaware of, but of the English name Seymour — a name that was very familiar to them as various government officials and places carried it. 

And so nowadays, there are many folks surnamed Seymour in this region’s Native communities, such as Colville tribal storyteller Peter Seymour.

So, with a bit of linguistic archaeology, you can see long-lasting traces of many languages in contact in our region, including Chinook Jargon.

Bonus fact:

I found a modern novel where a character Simon uses some Chinook Jargon! 

What do you think?