The Many Names Of Pocahontas And Their Meanings

Pocahontas, perhaps one of the most popular Native Americans, was a woman of many names. A member of the Mattaponi tribe, Pocahontas lived on land along the Mattaponi and Pamunkey rivers in Virginia and was part of the Powhatan Confederation. Many people of this tribe used several different names throughout their lives (via Encyclopedia Virginia). "Pocahontas" was actually a nickname for the girl who was born sometime around 1596 to a Chief Powhatan. When she was born, her parents named her Amonute. While the meaning of this word is lost, World History reports that some people think that it might mean "gift." 

But Pocahontas also had another name: Matoaka. This name means "flower between two streams," according to the National Park Service (NPS). This name makes sense because the Mattaponi village was located somewhere between the Mattaponi and Pamunkey Rivers. Not only that, but Pocahontas' mother was from the Mattaponi tribe and her father was from the Pamunkey tribe, per the NPS.

Matoaka was a private name

The National Women's History Museum reports that Matoaka was a "private" name. The name was so private — or secret — that Pocahontas did not tell anyone what it was until she was older. In fact, English travel writer Samuel Purchas writes in "Purchas, His Pilgrimes" that Pocahontas was afraid that the English might hurt her if they knew about her private name (via Encyclopedia Virginia). 

Pocahontas, however, was not a private name, and it means "playful one," according to the NPS. She might have acquired this moniker because she was curious and lively, per the NPS. That said, Encyclopedia Virginia reports that Englishman William Strachey, who lived at Jamestown from 1610 to 1611 and wrote about the naming practices of the Powhatans, said that Pocahontas translated to "little wanton." He explained this name could have meant a few things that ranged from sexually bawdy to cruel and undisciplined.

Pocahontas also had an English name

While there might be different meanings behind "Pocahontas," there is less confusion about the next name she would take. That name was Rebecca, and Pocahontas ended up adopting this name in 1614 after her baptism and marriage to Englishman John Rolfe. The Christian name was significant for a few reasons. For one, it mirrored the life of Rebekah of the Old Testament, who was the "mother of thousands of millions," according to American Indian Magazine. Since newlywed and newly-christened Rebecca was stepping into a new role, this name seemed fitting (via American Indian Magazine). 

The name Rebecca means "to tie" or "bind," and it originates from the Hebrew verb "ribbqah," which means to "join," "tie," or "snare," according to Verywell Family. John and Pocahontas' marriage symbolized peace for Native Americans and the English so much that the event was called the "Peace of Pocahontas," per the National Women's History Museum.