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What is the Correct Pronunciation for Sacagawea?

Originally published under Ask Mr. History. Published Online: August 13, 2013 
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A while back I watched a show on PBS about Sacagawea. There were many Native American "experts" and I noticed that some of them pronounced her name differently from some of the others. Phonetically some said Sack A Ja We A, which is the way I was taught to say her name. Others called her Sa Cog A We A. Which is the correct pronunciation?



? ? ?

Dear Joseph,

The Hidatsa term for "bird woman" was originally pronounced "Tsakaka-wea." Lewis and Clark refer to their Shoshone guide as "Sacagawea" 17 times in their journal. These two factors suggest that "Sacagawea" is closest to the original pronunciation. So naturalyl most people now mispronounce it as "Sacajawea."



Jon Guttman
Research Director
Weider History Group
More Questions at Ask Mr. History


10 Responses to “What is the Correct Pronunciation for Sacagawea?”

  1. 1
    The Walrus says:

    This is incorrect.

    Her name is actually of Shoshone origin, as was she. The family and tribe of Sacagawea even says its pronounced with a soft g.

    William Clark also wrote her name with a \j\ and both him and Lewis change their spellings of her name many times, so using the journals as a source is unreliable.

    The original Shoshone pronunciation is closer to the soft g sound, and therefore is more likely correct. Because of poorly researched answers like this one, people will believe and mispronounce it as Sah-can-gah-wey-yah.

  2. 2
    Jason Weaver says:

    As a middle school American History teacher, I have struggled with the pronunciation of her name for many years. The best answer is that nobody knows for sure how it should be pronounced. I am including some information from a project done by the University of Nebraska that is highly regarded. This is the source I use to explain it to my students.

    \Three questions about Sacagawea have long fascinated Lewis and Clark scholars. The name of the Indian woman—its meaning and proper spelling—continues to spark considerable debate. Sacajawea, Sacagawea, and Sakakawea have all had their partisans. The concern about spelling is not just a quibble over orthography. If the woman's name was Sacajawea, the word might be Shoshoni, meaning \boat launcher.\ However, if the spelling is more properly Sacagawea, the name would be Hidatsa and translate as \Bird Woman.\ The journal evidence from Lewis and Clark appears as to support a Hidatsa derivation. On May 20, 1805, Lewis wrote: \Sah cagah we ah or bird woman's River\ to name what is now Crooked Creek in north-central Montana. The most effective arguments for a Sacagawea spelling and a Hidatsa meaning are offered by Irving Anderson in his \Sacajawea, Sacagawea, Sakakawea?\ (South Dakota History 8 [1978]:303–11). Anderson summarizes the previous literature and finds that the Sacagawea spelling best fits both the historical and linguistic evidence. However, it should be noted that an unpublished paper by Bob Saindon, \'Sacajawea': The Origin and Meaning of a Name,\ does raise important questions about the whole matter. Both Anderson and Saindon rely heavily on the findings of professional linguists, who in turn differ considerably in their conclusions. Along with the historian Donald Jackson, I have found the Sacagawea spelling most acceptable.\

  3. 3
    Maggie says:

    The correct pronunciation is "Suh-cag-a-wey-yah" with a HARD g. Most people pronounce it as you showed. They are wrong. In the documentary of Lewis & Clark, they pronounce it correctly. Looking in the explorers journals also do not help. Even though they spelled out her name 17 times, they change the spelling over 5 times.

    So, as I have already made my point, her name is pronounced "Suh-cag-a-wey-yah."

  4. 4
    Lewis not Clark says:

    No you're all wrong it's Sack-a-ja-wee-a

    Period. No further discussion.

  5. 5
    Sacagawea says:

    It actually is supposed to be Sa-ca-ga-wea

    And that's finalpearly

  6. 6
    queen of the tribes says:






  7. 7
    Sacagawea says:

    Kill me. The fact that these idiotic "Americans" think they have any right to the pronunciation of my name or to say that it is "close to their hearts" makes me wish I had never been involved with the Lewis and Clark expedition. Maybe if the land had stayed unknown, the genocide of the Native American tribes could have been postponed for a few more years.

    However, the greed of the foreign beasts who took on the name of our continent is insatiable, and only matched by their cruelty and ignorance, so that is unlikely.

    • 7.1
      Thhq says:

      So "Sacagawea" has been to community college? Go do something useful. Catch a fish. Carry a baby.

  8. 8
    Thhq says:

    I saw this PBS broadcast yesterday. The sniffy historians pronounced Sacagawea however they felt, including one version that sounded like Chicago-wee-ah. Yet they all mispronounced Nez Perce the same way.

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