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noun to·tem \ˈtō-təm\

Simple Definition of totem

  • : something (such as an animal or plant) that is the symbol for a family, tribe, etc., especially among Native Americans

  • : a usually carved or painted figure that represents such a symbol

  • : a person or thing that represents an idea

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of totem

  1. 1a :  an object (as an animal or plant) serving as the emblem of a family or clan and often as a reminder of its ancestry; also :  a usually carved or painted representation of such an objectb :  a family or clan identified by a common totemic object

  2. 2 :  one that serves as an emblem or revered symbol

Examples of totem in a sentence

  1. Private jets are a totem of success among extremely wealthy people.

  2. <the bald eagle, that universally recognized totem of our country>

Did You Know?

Totem comes to us from Ojibwa, an Algonquian language spoken by an American Indian people from the regions around Lake Superior. The most basic form of the word in Ojibwa is believed to be "ote," but 18th-century English speakers encountered it as "ototeman" ("his totem"), which became our word totem. In its most specific sense, "totem" refers to an emblematic depiction of an animal or plant that gives a family or clan its name and that often serves as a reminder of its ancestry. The term is also used broadly for any thing or person having particular emblematic or symbolic importance. The related adjective "totemic" describes something that serves as a totem, that depicts totems ("totemic basketry," for example), or that has the nature of a totem.

Origin and Etymology of totem

Ojibwa oto·te·man his totem

First Known Use: circa 1776

Other Heraldry Terms

TOTEM Defined for Kids


noun to·tem \ˈtō-təm\

Definition of totem for Students

  1. 1 :  an object (as an animal or plant) serving as the emblem of a family or clan

  2. 2 :  a carving or picture representing such an object

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