Last Updated on October 14, 2010 by Paulette Brown-Hinds

Gradually, to show contempt for Slaves, the captors used “Buck” and “Wench” for naming the genders till they became trade terms, like “Filly” and “Shoat.” Contempt for the male was removing his honorific attachment to fatherhood and manhood by being addressed as “Boy.” Once the vigorous years of his prime were passed, he was allowed to assume the title of “Uncle.” Females were called “Gal,” girl, or the name of some animal. Or, the Slaves were given numbers or classical Greek names. This had a profound impact on the Selfhood of each of the enslaved–disrupting ones presumed Mission in life, as indicated by ones name; shattering the sharing of personal and historical experiences, attitudes, and spirits towards life; and putting in disarray the philosophy of life framework and common sense values by which all Africans lived.

Perhaps this caused some Slaves to ask: “Am I my new name or am I still my old name? Is this the work of the evil spirits or from my bad karma?” “Is this my fate!” To worsen matters, a given new European label applied only to one aspect of the nature (whereas his/her original name referred to a total identity) of the enslaved and this was an effective way to try to fragment a victim’s mindset. But the Slaves generally had two names–the one given by the slave owner (e.g. Brutus) and a private name (e.g. Sabe, Anque, Bumbo, Jobah, Quamana, Taynay, and Yearie) used in the Slave quarters. The private name served as a form of Selfhood Armor (“you can’t take all of me, White man!”); gave them a sense of power over their captors; and provided their children with a sense of heritage and pride. The idea was for the children to enter the inhumane system of slavery protected by a sense of Selfhood and history.

Rather than being derived from the supernatural world, European given names were a mere handle or tag. Of the 972 names of male Slaves recorded between 1619 and 1799 the leading ones were Jack, Tom, Harry, Sam, Will, Caesar, Dick, John, Robin, Frank, Charles, Joe and Prince. The most common of 603 names of female Slaves were Bet, Mary, Jane, Hanna, Betty, Sarah, Phillis, Nan, Peg, and Sary. Private names used in the quarters included Abah, Bilah, Comba, Dibb, Juba, Kauchee, Mima, and Sena. In French-speaking Louisiana, Slave names reflected the dominant language and thus were generally different from those in the English colonies. Examples include: Francois, Jean, Pierre, and Leon for men; and Manon, Delphine, Marie Louise, Celeste, and Eugenie for women. Spanish areas had male Slave names as Francisco, Pedro, and Antonio; and for females: Maria, Isabella, and Juana. While enslaved almost all had just one Christian name. But once freed most immediately chose surnames, with or without keeping their accustomed name.

When retained, a given name was generally changed to its full form: Thomas, not Tom; Elizabeth, not Bet. The new surnames, usually not taken from a former slave owner, included: Williams, Jones, Johnson, Smith, Jackson, Thomas, Brown, Walker, Davis, Green, Robinson, Scott, Harris, Turner, and Anderson. Many of these were names of heroes–but not Lincoln. Names of prominent slaveholders–e.g. Pinckney, Randolph, and Rutledge–appear only incidentally among any list of modern Black people’s names. Ref. Bailey, Word Stories Surrounding African American Slavery.