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AfriGeneas Genealogy and History Forum

Dyson on "Naming Practices"


Dyson points out that back during slavery the masters often tried to strip away black African identity by naming blacks after animals. Names like "Jumper, Bossey or Postilion" are examples. African were given biblical names, often against their will and sometimes named after Greek gods. This mockery by White slavers tried to denigrate blacks by naming them "Hercules, Cato, Othello, and Claudius." If a black appeared to be "particularly dumb" he would be named Plato or Socrates. What is interesting is the naming process that came from Africa which involved great celebrations at the naming of a child. Black slaves tried to preserve their African customs by waiting seven days before naming a child. Their names would reflect important events that surrounded the birth of a child. They were named for the month they were born in like "April, June and August." Some would be named for times of the day they were born, like "Morning."

According to Dyson, names like Becky were kept because they sounded like "Beke" from the African tribal system. After slavery some Blacks changed their last names to names that reflected their status. Names like "Freeman, Newman, Freeland, and Liberty" were adopted. Some chose surnames that identified their color like "Brown." Not all Black surnames came from the slave master and its institutions, but from inventive rebellion against a racist white culture. Children from other African customs were named after events at the time of birth, like "Blossom, Storm, Cotton, and Freeze" and others. Some names were rather fantastic and may have been the result of trying to remember African survival pronunciations. Names like Limmer, Eldeese, Agenora, and Orlaydo" are examples.


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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