Our Nations' Name


Anthropological and historical literature consistently portrays Esselen- and Southern Costanoan-speaking peoples (also known as Rumsen Ohlone) as separate tribes. Bi- and multi-lingualism was common among the native peoples united through networks of marriage, trade, subsistence practices, military alliance, and ceremonial obligations cross-cutting the larger Monterey Bay and Central Valley regions. The two languages are considered members of different language families. Esselen is classified as Hokan and Rumsen Ohlone or Southern Costanoan as Penutian. These languages became grammatically and phonologically similar through widespread bilingualism and intermarriage. Loan words, most importantly kinship terms, are also evident between these languages. The official name of the Ohlone/Costanoan-Esselen Nation challenges the misunderstanding that a strict linguistic, cultural, and political division existed historically between Esselen and Southern Ohlone/Costanoan peoples.

As early as the 1700s, the Spaniards called the Native American people of the Central Coast, from the San Francisco peninsula to Big Sur, costeños or coast-dwellers. Later, Anglo-Americans in California pronounced this term "Costanos" by. This term was eventually adapted as Costanoan by linguists and anthropologists in reference to the linguistically-related indigenous people of this long coastline and interior valleys. Another tribal name is Ohlone, which has been applied to the aboriginal tribes of both the San Francisco and Monterey Bay areas since the late 1960s. Ohlone or Oljon was the name of a ranchería on the coast of the San Francisco peninsula. In the 1900s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE) identified the elders of the Ohlone/Costanoan Esselen Nation as Costanoan.

While Costanoan is largely accepted as our people's Identification, our people and others have used other important names throughout history as cultural and social identifications. Esselen, Rumsen, Montereyeño, Carmeleño, Sureño, and Guatcharron are all names that appear in historical documents.

The name "Esselen," the historical self-identification of some of our rancherías, derives from Ex'seien, which means "The Rock." The term is related to the statement, "Xue elo xonia euene" ("I come from The Rock"). Contemporary tribal members, while no longer speaking the traditional languages of our ancestors (the last fluent speaker, Isabel Meadows, died in 1939), still use words of Esselen and Rumsen Ohlone (Southern Costanoan) origin. While it is now an official place-name, members of the Esselen Nation refer to the mountainous interior of Carmel Valley, an area of profound spiritual and historical significance, as Cachagua, a name derived from the Esselen word Xasiuan.

Today, as a tribe representing this vast region, we have chosen a legal name that reflects the diversity in identification through time. We are the Ohlone/Costanoan Esselen Nation.