Slave names

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Tue Dec 11 23:08:48 UTC 2007

Probably where I read it. I have a copy of _Mother Wit_ somewhere or
other in storage.


On Dec 11, 2007 12:50 PM, Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: Slave names
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Dec 11, 2007 12:14 PM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at> wrote:
> > 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).
> In his 1937 article "Names of American Negro Slaves" [*], Newbell
> Niles Puckett says: "Classical names, although less numerous than
> certain writers on plantation life would have us think, also probably
> reveal the hand of the master class." He also points out that
> classical names such as Cato, Hector, and Pompey were also given to
> mules and cows (as shown in probate records), so irony no doubt played
> a role.
> [*] reprinted in _Mother Wit from the Laughing Barrel_, Alan Dundes, ed.
> --Ben Zimmer
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