Pompey, nickname for Portsmouth

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Mon Dec 18 21:07:39 UTC 2006

May I refer Jonathan, Margaret, and Wilson to my
two messages of Dec. 11, and to the sources I cited:

* Greene, Lorenzo J[ohnston]. “The New England
Negro as Seen in Advertisements for Runaway
Slaves”. The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 29, No. 2 (Apr., 1944), 125–146.

* Greene, Lorenzo Johnston. The Negro in Colonial
New England, 1620–1776. New York: Columbia
University Press, 1942. Reprint: with a new
preface by Benjamin Quarles. New York: Atheneum,
1969.  [Its index is the best way to see slave names.]

And for African day-names:

* Hart, Richard. Slaves Who Abolished Slavery:
Volume 2, Blacks in Rebellion. Kingston, Jamaica:
Institute of Social and Economic Research,
University of the West Indies, 1985.  (Page 11
for Cuff/Cuffee, as Margaret wrote.)


At 12/18/2006 02:15 PM, JL wrote:
>FWIW, I recall reading, probably in the late
>'70s, that slaves were sometimes named for Classical figures "as a joke."
>   My perverse take on this idea is that it's a
> recent inference. Are there really surviving
> letters and diaries from slaveholders saying,
> "We named her Cleopatra for laughs. Heehee!" ?  One is skeptical.
>   Having hurled myself backward in time, I'm
> back with the alternative [n.b.] suggestion
> that the Neoclassical pop culture of the
> country's slaveowners might have led in exactly
> the opposite direction: a Classical name might,
> in a mystical, prescientific way, encourage a
> slave to be more civilized, more intelligent,
> more like Plautus, Terence, and Epictetus,
> among others, who once were Roman
> slaves.  (Though I'm not aware of any slaves actually named P, T, or E. )
>   Aside from that, the practice might also have
> enhanced the feeling, undoubtedly satisfying to
> massa, that he was just like a Roman patrician
> in his porticoed manse, complete with slaves
> bearing Classical names. A groaningly stupid
> idea, perhaps, but not quite a "joke" and
> exactly the sort of thing some people would do
> - at least some people today, if they had slaves.
>   JL
>Margaret Lee <mlee303 at YAHOO.COM> wrote:
>   ---------------------- Information from the
> mail header -----------------------
>Sender: American Dialect Society
>Poster: Margaret Lee
>Subject: Re: Pompey, nickname for Portsmouth
>I know an African American male, 50-ish, whose
>first name is Pompey. Cuffee/Cuffy/Kofi is a
>West African male day name for Friday.
>Wilson Gray wrote:
>FWIW, I read somewhere or other about 45 years ago, that, once the
>external slave trade was ended and no new slaves with their own names
>were coming in, it became the fashion to give slaves names extracted
>from the classics as a joke. Before then, according to this source, a
>slave whose name was unknown to the speaker would be addressed or
>referred to as "Cuffie," "Coffee," "Cuffey," "a cuffey," etc., it
>being the case that the first shiploads of slaves came from someplace
>where "Kofi" (somehow, that name rings a bell) was a very common
>masculine name, to the extent that it became the default name and
>noun, used in reference to any random slave, especially one just off
>the boat.
>Further FWIW, I went to grade school with the twins, Richard and
>Raymond Cuffey, and their sister, Jacqueline.
>Way OT: I've read that white educationists consider it a bad thing to
>allow twins of any kind to share a classroom. That's not true, is it?
>Can it really be the case that there's a theory that makes that claim?
>On 12/11/06, George Thompson wrote:
> > ---------------------- Information from the
> mail header -----------------------
> > Sender: American Dialect Society
> > Poster: George Thompson
> > Subject: Re: Pompey, nickname for Portsmouth
> >
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >
> > > Pompey may have been a common slave name in the US.
> > >
> > In NY, at least, it seems to have been a fashion to give one's slaves
> > a name from classical literature or history. Presumably these names
> > also might become family tradition, and given to children of free
> > parents, on occasion.
> >
> > *** The busy note of preparation had been heard for a week. The suds
> > began drizzling from here and there a window -- the face of the buxom
> > housewife began to grow long and sour -- the sweeps croaked their
> > inharmonious and deafening notes with unusual gusto -- and unless one
> > kept a good look-out ahead, the Pompeys and Phillises at the turn of
> > every corner would give him an opportunity to sweep his kerseymeres
> > against the ponderous brush, or stumble over a bucket of white-wash!
> > ***
> > Commercial Advertiser, May 3, 1825, p. 2, col. 3
> >
> > THE MISERIES OF MAY DAY. [a long dialog between a sensible
> > and long suffering husband and a fashion driven wife, who has insisted
> > on moving; Philis, Chloe, Sambo, Caesar, Mark Antony are named as
> > temporary help and whitewashers]
> > Commercial Advertiser, May 2, 1827, p. 2, cols. 1 2
> >
> > [a card signed Pompey, Caesar, Cato, & Co., in mock AAVE,
> > rejecting bobilition]
> > Evening Star, August 27, 1835, p. 2, col. 4
> >
> > GAT
> >
> > George A. Thompson
> > Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
> > Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much lately.
> >
> > ------------------------------------------------------------
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> >
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