William L. Iġġiaġruk Hensley’s Name

Introduction: In his autobiography, William Hensley provides the following account of his name. It comes in the midst of a number of observations on names and the changes that non-natives brought to his own people (Iñupiat).

Key Facts: William Hensley is a well respected figure within the Alaska Native community. Among other things, he played a significant role in the politics leading up to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

Text: This excerpt is from William L. Iġġiaġruk Hensley, Fifty Miles from Tomorrow: A Memoir of Alaska and the Real People, New York: Picador, 2009. The quote can be found on page 12.

It was common for converts to keep their Iñupiaq names as well as their new English versions, and to pass both down through the generations.

Thus my birth mother – Clara, or Makpiiq – named me Iġġiaġruk after her father, and also gave me his English name William Hensley.


Comments: Hensley’s has played a substantial role in the politics of Alaska Natives. His book is influential.

Discussion: There are a few themes here, all related to the question of whether or not this passage contains reasoning.

Argument Recognition: The issue here is argument recognition. As the passage includes the word ‘thus’ which is often used as a conclusion indicator, this could be confused with an argument (particularly by logic students who have just been taught to look for such words when trying to identify an argument). As indicated above, the term is not really used in that way here.

Explanation: The key to understanding this piece is asking a very simple question; how likely is it that Mr. Hensley is actually trying to prove that his name is both Iġġiaġruk and William Hensley? (The answer is ‘not at all’.) Instead, he is trying to explain how his name came into being, and at the same time illustrate a little about the context of cultural changes reflected in his own name and that of many of the people he grew up with. Hensley’s audience is likely to assume that his name is exactly what he says it is. So, the point isn’t to prove that these really are his names; it is to help us understand what they mean and how he came to acquire them. The text is accordingly best treated as an example of an explanation instead of an argument.

Inference Indicators: See directly above.

Final Thoughts: Because this is not an argument, the analysis ends here.

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