coloured folk: to clarify

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Sat Jul 16 13:33:50 UTC 2011

At 7/15/2011 10:25 PM, Wilson Gray wrote:
>Content-Transfer-Encoding: 8bit
>On Fri, Jul 15, 2011 at 6:34 PM, George Thompson
><george.thompson at> wrote:
> > As for knowing from her name that Phillis was coloured, Phillis and Chloe
> > were stereotypical names for black women;

Phillis was the name of one of the two slaves executed for the murder
of John Codman in Charlestown, Mass., in 1755.  (The other slave
condemned was hanged, and then his body was left on the gibbet in
Charlestown for a number of years.  Paul Revere mentions the location
"where Mark was hanged" -- it was at a crossroads -- in his
description of his ride, but it's not likely the body was still
hanging then; rather, he was probably using the location as a
"landmark" to describe his route.)

>Cuff is an African name, but
> > parallel to Phillis and Chloe were the names Pompey and Cato for men.  Cato
> > Alexander kept a very well-known roadhouse in the east 50s, I think, for
> > decades, the 1820s and after; it was very popular with a sporting crowd.
> >  Otherwise, I'm not sure that I have encountered an actual person named
> > Phillis, Chloe or Pompey.  (Encountered while time-travelling in early 19th
> > C NYC, that is.)

Phillis, Pompey, and Cato were common slave names; I don't know about Chloe.

>Interesting, in view of the fact that, IME, _Phyllis_ is still quite a
>popular name amongst the distaff colored - my own acquaintance with
>the name dates from Phyllis, fraternal twin of Charles, whom I met in
>the first grade and who was a classmate of mine through graduation. At
>that point, as was then the universal custom among followers of The
>One True Faith, she went on to an all-girl high school. However, I had
>no idea that, even at such an early date, the name was already so
>popular as to be stereotypical!
>OTOH, I know _Cuff_ and its variants only in the form of the surname,
>_Cuffey_ and, even here, I'm not certain that it's not a variant of
>Irish _Coffey_ <har! har!>, having nothing to do with, ultimately,

Cuff, Coffee, etc. are derived from an African day-name, and *are* I
believe related to Kofi.  See Dillard, Black English, 124.

>There was once a novel, The View From Pompey's Head. IIRC, Pompey's
>Head was the name of a town in SC and the Pompey after whose head the
>town was named was a slave. I've long been under the impression that
>these names of Greek and Roman origin were the *true* _slave-names_ -
>as opposed to "slave-names" in the Nation-of-Islam sense - imposed by
>the masters showing off their erudition to other masters and not names
>that the slaves had truly chosen for themselves, in any reasonable
>sense of _choose_, as well as being a mockery of the unfortunate
>bearers f those grandiose, white-folks names.

  "English" names were more common for slaves than "classical" or
African (Lorenzo J. Greene, "Advertisements for Runaway Slaves,"
129).  And the English and classical were generally imposed by the
masters, not chosen by the slaves.


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