The meaning of names Part 3: A time for change

Legally changing a last name is common. But what about changing your first name? It can be hard for people who’ve known you for years to relearn your name. But for Yéil Yádi Olson the decision was an easy one.

Yéil Yádi Olson. (Photo courtesy of Yéil Yádi Olson)
Yéil Yádi Olson. (Photo courtesy of Yéil Yádi Olson)

In this third installment of a five-part series, Olson talks about why he thinks more people should start using their Native names.

Yéil Yádi Olson

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My name is Yéil Yádi Olson. I am T’akdeintaan Raven, Tlingit and dleit kaa yatx’i.

My name Yéil Yádi was first given to me by my grandma many, many years ago. It is the second of two Tlingit names that I have, and this was the name that I chose to go by legally. To me, it just represents who I am as a human being, because I believe every Tlingit person out there deserves a name, a proper name.

I like to use it very casually in everyday speech. I like the fact that it’s not anything ceremonial, it’s not anything heavy, it’s not anything deep. It’s just a name. Me, as a human being, I’m represented by Yéil Yádi Olson all day, every day, all the time. For me, it’s who I am — it means it’s me.

I changed my name legally like that (because) I like the idea of teaching people a little bit of Tlingit. Since I believe that all Native people were forced to use English, and now, in today’s world, it’s my opportunity to force the same people to learn a little, tiny bit about the Tlingit language.

It’s very important I think that more people do the same thing that I did. We have to start using these names because we’re trying to revitalize and bring back our languages and a part of that is using it every day, all the time.

By me changing my name to Yéil Yádi Olson, I’m making people who aren’t Tlingit, and even Tlingits who don’t know anything about the language, I’m making them use it and learn a little bit about our culture.

This is part three of a five-part series:

Part One: Indigenizing government

Part Two: A family history

Part Four: The aftermath of generational trauma

Part Five: The world of social media