There’s Katherine and Katelyn, plus Katie, Kate, Kaitlyn and Catherine, too. With six Kate- names in the US Top 200, and endless variants heard over the years, how has this intriguing option failed to chart?
Thanks to Meredith for suggesting Kateri as Baby Name of the Day.
Kateri is the seventeenth century equivalent of Kimora. Or maybe Tiger, or Cher. Even if you choose the name for your child, it is hard to shake the association with one, distinctive person with a very specific biography.
The original Kateri was born Tekakwitha. Dad was a Mohawk chief. Mom was an Algonquin – and a Christian. It was 1656 in what we now consider New York state, but back then was Ossernenon, part of the Mohawk lands. The Jesuits had been in the area for some time – long enough for a trio of priests to meet their deaths as martyrs.
Tekakwitha lost both of her parents and her brother to a smallpox epidemic when she was just a child. She went to live with an uncle who was strongly anti-Christian and planned to see his niece sensibly married.
Tekakwitha resisted, and the year she celebrated her twentieth birthday, she was baptized by a French Jesuit from the nearby mission, taking the Christian name Catherine – Kateri in Mohawk.
This raises Meredith’s vexing question: What is the proper pronunciation of Kateri?
It’s tricky. After all:
- Kateri is based on the Mohawk pronunciation of the French pronunciation of Catherine;
- We know that seventeenth century French has changed over the years;
- Likewise, Mohawk has claimed three distinct dialects since the 1800s and the first written version of Mohawk was developed by French missionaries in the 1700s – both after her demise;
- In writings by those who knew her, Kateri was most often referred to as Catherine Tekakwitha;
- Tekakwitha was not formally educated, and I cannot find any record of how she would have signed her name.
And yet, there’s consensus that the original Mohawk pronunciation would most likely have been gah deh LEE. It isn’t a pronunciation parents are likely to embrace.
Kateri has never entered the US Top 1000 and isn’t in use internationally. But the name surfaces in US Census records and you can find parents who have named their daughters Kateri in recent years. A few pronunciations cited include:
- ka TEER ee, favored by the National Shrine to Kateri Tekakwitha;
- KAY tuh ree, the most logical choice if you want to use Kay, Kate or Katie as a short form;
- kuh TAYR ee, which links the name to Terri;
- KAH tuh ree, KAT uh ree or kah teh REE, all of which take the name closer to some non-English versions of Katherine.
I could go on, and that’s one of Kateri’s shortcomings.
Incidentally, while she is beatified and is often referred to as St. Kateri Tekakwitha, she is not yet officially a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. Strictly, speaking she’s Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha – Blessed, just short of sainthood.
If what you’re after is an unusual name with a religious vibe and a Native American link, Kateri is one of the few that fits the bill. But file Kateri with Therese and Andrea – you’ll need to be prepared to choose a pronunciation and repeat!