To the majority of the world, these indigenous people are known as the Guaymi people. To themselves, they are known as the Ngäbe. The name Guaymi was given to the Ngäbe people by the Spanish when they conquered and colonized the areas today known as Panama and Costa Rica. Guaymi is the Spanish interpretation of a rival tribe's term for the Ngäbe.
Many Ngäbe refer to themselves as Guaymi when they are speaking in Spanish and use the term Ngäbe when speaking their native tongue, Ngäbere. While the two names may be used interchangeably, there is a movement by some Ngäbe to do away with the term Guaymi. It is rare to speak with a Ngäbe who takes
serious offense at being referred to as Guaymi, but they do appreciate the use of their historic name.
The language of the Ngäbe, Ngäbere, is very different from the Spanish spoken in the countries in which they live. This language was purely oral until the 1950's. At that time an alphabet and written language was developed by a Methodist missionary in order to create a Bible translation that could better reach the Ngäbe people. Over the course of several decades, the written language has been refined to the current form. The Ngäbere alphabet consists of thirty-four letters; eighteen
consonants, eight vowels, and eight nasal tones.