Slave names

David Bergdahl dlbrgdhl at GMAIL.COM
Tue Dec 11 15:28:51 UTC 2007

In the names section of Dillard's Black English I remember him saying that
an African name resembling Phoebe made that name recognizable to
whites--might there have been other names that were misheard as classical?

On Dec 11, 2007 10:17 AM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at> wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
> Subject:      Re: Slave names
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> At 12/11/2007 09:59 AM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
> >Since none of us are quite old enough to remember the period in
> >question, the perception that slaves were often given Classical
> >names ("Caesar" and "Pompey" in particular) must come from books or
> >films.  Perhaps "assumption" would be a better word.
> >
> >   Despite the proof that some slaves were indeed given these names,
> > the  few numbers I've seen  don't indicate that they were actually
> > "prevalent" at any time. There could have been a thousand more
> > prosaically named slaves for every "Caesar."
> True -- I have not tried to count the "Adam"s and "Jeremiah"s or the
> "John"s and "Mary"s, and the census records aren't reliable for
> race.  (Although the names in the index to Lorenzo Greene's "The
> Negro in Colonial New England" are perhaps useful evidence, and I did
> count and compare those names that were "Classical".)  But I am
> planning to look at the 1937 article mentioned here previously, and
> see what kind of data it has.
> Joel
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