Slave names

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Tue Dec 11 17:14:43 UTC 2007

At 12/11/2007 10:28 AM, David Bergdahl wrote:
>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?

Would Phoebe be classical, or English?  Lorenzo Greene wrote that
slave names "fell into at least four categories: classical, Hebrew,
Christian (English), and African. ... English names ...
predominated"  (so yes, Jon Lighter, there were probably more "John"s
than "Caesar"s), and "Upon baptism slaves occasionally had their
classical or heathen names changed for Hebraic or Christian ones."

There are books that discuss African names, specifically
day-names.  The only one I recall now is Hart, Blacks in Rebellion,
page 11.  Kofi, of course, sometimes became Coffee.  But I'm
skeptical that names such as "Caesar" or "Pompey" were mis-hearings
of African names; rather, as I think I've read somewhere, they were
deliberately chosen, sometimes in irony (or perhaps because Romans
were pagans).


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