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African-Native American Genealogy Forum

Re: Descendants of Richard NERO
In Response To: Descendants of Richard NERO ()

Preston said:
The children disowned the slaveholders name and adopted NERO as their surname.

David replies:
The Cherokee Freedmen, many having lived among the Cherokees for several generations, were more culturally akin to their masters than they were to blacks residing in the states. I question your assment of the reasoning behind the name change among the Nero family.

Prior the adoption of Euro/American naming patterns, where a first and last name were required, Cherokees had only one name, usually given to them as an adolescent or young adult. Cherokee naming was very fluid and adults changed names at will.

Following the intrusion of Euro/American culture and the making of tribal rolls by the U.S. government, sometime around the 1820s, traditional Cherokees began to adopt the two-name or surname system, but with a Cherokee twist. While the mixed blood descendants of white Americans adopted the surname of their fathers, the full bloods began to adopt the single given names of their fathers as a surname.

An example, my ancestor Cornsilk (his only name) had three children, Sarah, John and Betsy. Each child took their father's given name as their surname, thus we became Cornsilks. Our common ancestor Cornsilk was the son of Slimfellow. A generation earlier and we might have been Slimfellows instead of Cornsilks. Now for the twist.

When a Cherokee speaker introduces him/herself he presents his given name followed by the given name of his father. The potential for name changes in each generation is obvious because the census taker would have recorded the name just as he heard it. In this traditional format, I would introduce myself as David John, thus saying who I am, and who my father is. That does not change the fact that my name is David Cornsilk, but a census taker would have recorded me differently.

An example, William Adair, a full blood Cherokee man became known as Bill Adair. He had three children, Batt, Owl and Squirrel. Each of these children became known as Batt Bill, Owl Bill and Squirrel Bill. Those three men had children of their own, each with a Euro/American given name, but the three affiliated families took their father's given names as their surnames. Thus Batt Bill's descendants are known as Batts and so on. There are numerous examples of this throughout the full blood families, some mixed blood families and a few Freedmen families of the Cherokee Nation

I would suggest that, unless their is evidence to the contrary, the Cherokee Freedmen families exhibiting this same naming pattern, were in fact practicing a cultural norm among the traditional Cherokees of taking their father's given name as their surname.


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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