Mark Liberman at Language Log discusses a question that had never occurred to me but that I now desperately want an answer to: why, around two centuries ago, did people start writing American Indian names and words with hyphens between the syllables? They hadn’t done so earlier; John Eliot’s Massachusett Bible of 1663 (Book of Ruth) writes the words as single units (“Kah ìwesuonk noh wosketomp Elimelek, & ìwesuonk ummittamwussoh Naomi…””), and Mark provides images from Benjamin Smith Barton’s New views of the origin of the tribes and nations of America (1797), which does the same. But Edwin James’s Account of An Expedition From Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains, Performed in the Years 1819, 1820 … , published in 1823, occasionally hyphenates: “whether it would be proper to ascend Running-Water creek, (Ne-bra-ra, or Spreading water), or the Platte, (Ne-bres-kuh, or Flat water), or hunt the bison between the sources of those two streams…” Soon it becomes extremely common; for instance, from A Narrative of the Captivity and Adventures of John Tanner (1830): “The Indians who seized me were an old man and a young one; these were, as I learned subsequently, Manito-o-gheezhik, and his son Kish-kau-ko.”
There are various suggestions at Mark’s post, but here I just want to highlight one very funny anecdote:
One case arose on the Pawnee Reservation, Oklahoma, where an indian was named Coo-rux-rah-ruk-koo. Commonly he was known as Afraid-of-a-bear. A literal translation of his Indian name was “fearing a bear that is wild.” From this translation the agent recorded him as Fearing B. Wilde.