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5 Vote

The dictionary definition for "tonto" is not very flattering for the Lone Ranger's Indian pal Tonto. Could there be another definition for the word tonto which would save face for Tonto?

  • I changed the category to General Discussion, which is more appropriate. - Gekkosan Sep 24, 2010 flag

14 Answers

2 Vote

I cannot agree with you Sheila. Tonto was a terrific friend to the Lone Ranger, and appreciated, or so I always thought. He was a good man, a friend in deed, honorable never two-faced or with any bad traits at all, really. And he was definitely intelligent!

As for his name, if it were real, it would be an Indian name, not a Spanish one. I don't know which tribe Tonto belonged but Indian names often had a meaning. Maybe he was "fleet of foot" ...or "decent guy one would always like t have around"!!

More likely - the name was just invented by his creator Information about Tonto in Wikipedia

  • I hope you're right Janice - maybe my view is a little jaundiced, and based, of course, more on British TV than American. I do agree - Tonto was a great sidekick to have. - sheila-foste Nov 8, 2009 flag
  • Janice, are you looking forward to your 102nd birthday? Your profile says you were born in 1908! - 005457e3 Nov 8, 2009 flag
2 Vote

Tonto's name is not Spanish. It's supposed to be a Potawatomi name, though in reality it was just picked because someone liked the sound. This from Wikipedia:

The radio series identified Tonto as a chief's son in the Potawatomi nation. His name translates as wild one in his own language. For the most part, the Potawatomi did not live in the Southwestern states, and their cultural costume is different from that worn by Tonto. The choice to make Tonto a Potawatomi seems to come from station owner George Trendle's youth in Michigan. This is the traditional territory of the Potawatomi, and many local institutions use Potawatomi names. Tonto's name, according to an NPR news story on the Lone Ranger, was inspired by the name of Tonto Basin, Arizona.

1 Vote

"El Indio Bobo" --- 'El que más sabe." --"Kemo Sabe." tongue laugh

1 Vote

Actually, Tonto wasn't a fall guy. In many segments, the Native American Tonto showed far more courage and "smarts" than did the Lone Ranger.

I doubt that his name has anything to do with the Spanish word tonto. (Unless it was using irony to show he was anything but a stupid man?)

By the way, Wikipedia has a long and interesting history of The Lone Ranger.

Jonny Depp has been signed to portray Tonto in a Disney version about to be put into production.

I'm looking forward to that one!

  • Tonto was not Spanish or a fall guy, you are correct and it is a native name as you mention.. - Brynleigh Sep 24, 2010 flag
  • Native - Kemo Sabe - friend; Tonto - guide - Brynleigh Sep 24, 2010 flag
1 Vote

Yes, Tonto was certainly not a bad/fall guy. He was supposed to be the faithful companion and sidekick. If memory serves, he was also supposed to have nursed the Lone Ranger back to health after some big shootout that killed all of the other "rangers" and left the Lone Ranger seriously wounded.

Hollywood has a long tradition of muddled/confused depictions of peoples/cultures/languages that are not "main-stream" American. In all likelihood, the choice of the name "Tonto" was done in ignorance of the word's meaning in Spanish (probably nothing more than it sounds like it might be a name in some Indian language and it's easy for English speakers to pronounce).

1 Vote

Independently of what the creator of the saga may have thought the name meant, we simply cannot look at these old productions with the same perspective and understanding we have today.

In fact the Lone Ranger could be said to be phenomenally advanced, for a time when all Injuns were evil, and not quite human ("the only good injun is a dead injun") and all white cowboys were good.

Our sensitivities have changed, and after the 80's a number of things that were simply normal or hilarious in classics such a Comedy Capers, Tintin, Asterix and Obelix, or the Green Hornet, are nowadays unthinkably offensive.

If we can keep that in mind, we may be able to still enjoy the old classics for what they are, at face value, and not judge them for what we think today

Interestingly enough, this also applies to cultural differences that exist right now in the 21st Century. What may strike someone in Caracas as hysterically funny, may be perceived as horrifyingly offensive by someone in New York.

0 Vote

I don't think Tonto was ever supposed to be flattering.

Tonto was the "fall guy" in a 1960's TV programme.

If you think back to the 50's and 60's - and even later in some cases, the fall guy or the baddie in a lot of these programmes tended to be of non-white or ethnic origin. It probably isn't possible to quote examples with falling deeply into the realms of political incorrectness, but certainly their names, and their characters weren't conceived with any idea other than to make the hero look good by comparison.

So poor Tonto's name was probably supposed to mean exactly what it does.

0 Vote

Tonto was Native American not Mexican. In some Spanish speaking countries he was called Torro.

  • Actually, it was "Toro", (only one R) which means bull. - isamara Feb 3, 2013 flag
0 Vote

"tonto" in one of the southwest dialects, (dene I believe) means fool, according to the indian that played tonto (jay silverheels,a canadian actor from 6 nations reserve can't remember his real name) the director or writer ask this indian fellow sweeping floors how your say friend in indian he replied "tonto" a bit of native humour there. a good documentary to watch is "reel injun" which explains the hollywood indian story. Meegwetch, adios, danke, thanks.

  • It's a good story, but unlikely. The Lone Ranger, including Tonto, was on the radio for decades before it was on TV. It started in 1933. - KevinB Sep 24, 2010 flag
0 Vote

Jay Silverheels (Harold J. Smith)

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0 Vote

The Lone Ranger looks like the dummy in that picture.

0 Vote

I think that the bruhaha about Tonto is "tonto", and I'll tell you why:

1) even back in the "olden days" people were named by their parents. I would assume that Tonto was the name his mom though would be nice for him. It may or may not have meant anything profound in his parents' native language.

2) The Lone Ranger was not Spanish, so why would he choose a Spanish name (and a Spanish slur) to give as a nickname to the faithful friend who saved his life? Not likely at all.

3) Given the limitations of any common alphabet there will be a number of words in any given language that are totally inoffensive in one language and perhaps the worst swear word possible in another language. Simply the luck of the draw. If you were named Tonto and then you found out later in life that your name meant something else in a language you didn't speak, would it bother you? Not likely. You'd probably find it to be an amusing coincidence.

Nowdays people go out of their way to find slight where none is intended.

Tonto didn't seem to be too upset with his name, so we probably shouldn't be, either.

  • "His parents"? We are talking about a character in a story, and not about a real person. - isamara Feb 3, 2013 flag
0 Vote

In Argentina, in the Spanish spoken version, they called him "Toro". I guess they changed it because "Tonto" didn't sound very smart for a name. smile

0 Vote

A little history of Native American naming. When a child is born he or she is given a name by the baby's parents. This is a name that only they know and call the child by in private. They also give the child a public name which they call the child in public. As the child grows up they can actually earn many names. This is obtain through actions that they do while growing up. The adult name is give when they accomplish something major in the eyes of the adults of the tribe. So maybe Tonto while was a young man did something incredibly stupid that nearly killed him. A young white man saved his life and became Tonto's life long friend. The name Tonto stuck with the young indian into his adult life. While out to obtain accomplish something that he would be known for, thus changing his name from Tonto he found his white friend laying amongst the dead of a Texas Ranger posse. Tonto's dedication to repay this life debt changed his plans to obtain a different name. It isn't that Tonto is a stupid individual, it is that he is ignorant of the white man's ways. Look at the naming of this fictional character that way, or the way I described above.

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