Use and spelling Navaho or Navajo

This is a response to many inquiries I have been receiving about word “Navaho” as used in articles on this website.

I have just came back from my trip to the Navajo Nation Museum and library doing research for my articles on this website.

I also visited Saint Michael’s Historical Museum near Window Rock, AZ where the Franciscan Fathers wrote ” An ethnologic dictionary of the Navaho language (1910).

Navajo Museum 1

Navajo Nation Museum – Photo by Harold Carey Jr.

Saint Michael’s Historical Museum

Saint Michael’s Historical Museum – Photo by Harold Carey Jr.

From Research on literature of the Southwest I have come up with the following:

Its origin is described in the “Ethnologic Dictionary of the Navaho Language”.

“The word Navaho, or originally, Navajo, is first mentioned and applied to this tribe of Indians by Fray Alonzo Benavides O. F. M., in his “Memorial to the King of Spain” written in 1630. After describing the Gila Apaches, Benavides says that more than fifty leagues north of these “one encounters the Province of the Apaches of Navajo.

Although they are the same Apache nation as the foregoing, they are subject and subordinate to another Chief Captain, and have a distinct mode of living. For those of back yonder did not use to plant, but sustained themselves by the chase; today we have broken land for them and taught them to plant.

But these of Navajo are very great farmers, for that is what Navajo signifies—great planted fields.”
1. Franciscan Fathers. Ethnologic Dictionary of the Navaho Language.

The Navahos call themselves: “Dine” which means men or people and in conversing with them they will tell you that “Dine” simply means “The People”.

The list below is from a search of works published by various authors interested in Southwestern archaeology and ethnology by writers using “ho” or “jo”.

Hosteen Klah: Navaho Medicine Man and Sand Painter by Franc Johnson Newcomb (May 28, 2012)
The Enduring Navaho [Paperback]Laura Gilpin (Author) Publication Date: 1987
The Navaho by Clyde & lLighton, Dorothea Kluckhohn (1974)
Navaho Witchcraft by Clyde Kluckhohn (1995)
Navaho Indian Myths (Native American) by Aileen O’Bryan (Jun 14, 1993)
The Dine: Origin Myths of the Navaho Indians (Forgotten Books) by Aileen Warner O’Bryan (May 7, 2008)
Origin Myths of the Navaho Indians by Aileen O’Bryan; BAEB 163 [1956]
Navaho Myths, Prayers, and Songs by Washington Matthews; UCPAAE 5:2 [1906]

Navajo Texts. by Pliny Earle Goddard (Jan 1, 1933)
Navajo Indians by Dane Coolidge and R. Mary (Jun 1930)
Navajo gambling songs – Matthews, Washington, 1843-1905
A study of Navajo symbolism (Volume v. 32 no. 3) – Newcomb, Franc Johnson
The Navajo and his blanket – Hollister, Uriah S., 1838-1929
The Navajo Indians; a statement of facts – Weber, Anselm, Father, 1862-1921
The making of a Navajo blanket – Pepper, George H. (George Hubbard), 1873-1924
The gentile system of the Navajo Indians – Matthews, Washington, 1843-1905

George Wharton James has an explanation for the use of NAVAHO and we quote the paragraph. “It will be observed that I follow the Americanized and rational form of spelling the name NAVAHO. Why people should consent to use the misleading and unnecessary form of the name NAVAJO, is beyond me.

Every stranger to the Spanish tongue—and there are millions who are thus strange—naturally pronounce this Na-va-joe, and cannot be blamed. Yet it does give the One-who-knows the opportunity to laugh at him, and perhaps this is the reason the Spanish form is retained.

Were the name one of Spanish origin we might be reconciled to that form of spelling, but as it is a name belonging to a tribe of Amerinds who were here and had been here for centuries when the Spaniards came, there is no reason why they should have fixed upon them forever a European method of spelling their name”.

2. James, George Wharton. “Indian Blankets and their Makers.” A. O. McClurg and Co., Chicago. 1920.

For justifying the use of Navaho in the Dictionary of the English Language and find in Funk and Wagnalls: “Navaho, an important and rapidly increasing branch of Athapascan Indians dwelling in New Mexico and Arizona; employed in herding blanket making, silver smithing, and as laborers in railroad and ether public works.
“Navajo” is the preference shown in Websters New International Dictionary.