Slave names

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Tue Dec 11 18:01:55 UTC 2007

FWIW, I've also read somewhere or other that the giving of the names
of gods and  powerful white men from classical antiquity to slaves was
a form of irony or whimsy of the part of slaveholders.


On 12/11/07, 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 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).
> Joel
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