HomeQ&AThe origin of the word "Indian" for describing Native Americans

The origin of the word "Indian" for describing Native Americans


Here's a question, or rather speculation I'd like some input on. We've all heard that Native Americans were named Indians because of Columbus' erroneous belief he reached India. Then I read an Oglala Sioux writer state that it was the Spanish term for the native people as "Niños en Dios" that was shortened to "Indios" which became the commonly used term. Well, I understand that the term "Indegenos" is used in HispanoAmerica to describe the indigenous peoples. Have any of you heard of any theory that it was the word "Indegenos" which could have been the rootword of "Indian" or is it just me alone who's come up with this wild speculation?

updated JUL 13, 2012
posted by GaryT
Cristobol Colon aailed to hispaniola and was greated by 4 chiefs bearing gifts. Colon noticed how they were models of Christians and easily enslaved referriing to them as People of God. The description was shortened to "Indios" In English; "Indians" - philbange, JUL 13, 2012

4 Answers


the majority of American Indians/Native Americans believe it is acceptable to use either term, or both. Many have also suggested leaving such general terms behind in favor of specific tribal designations. As the publisher and editor of The Navajo Times, the largest Native American–owned weekly newspaper, puts it, "I . . . would rather be known as, 'Tom Arviso Jr., a member of the Navajo tribe,' instead of 'Arviso, a Native American or American Indian.' This gives an authentic description of my heritage, rather than lumping me into a whole race of people."

You can read much more about it here.

updated ENE 26, 2011
posted by Zoltán
Thank you, Zoltan, for the Link. Fine piece! - 0057ed01, NOV 20, 2009
I agree. Enjoyed reading it. - Pibosan, ENE 26, 2011

Cristobal Colon died believing that he had discovered and colonized the Indies (the Asian territory) instead of a new continent. So the natives were called "indios" because of that. wiki

updated NOV 20, 2009
posted by Mokay


updated NOV 20, 2009
posted by nitaina

Makes the word 'Indian' more politically correct! wink

updated NOV 20, 2009
posted by sunshinzmommie
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