African-American Heroine Names

As Black History Month segues into  Women’s History Month this weekend, we thought we’d take a look at the names of some African-American heroines.

Actually, compiling this list was not as easy as you might think (or as it should be).  Google and book searches tended to turn up only the usual suspects.  And then, late as usual, I bought my 2009 calendar from the bargain bin: A Journey Into 365 Days of Black History — Notable Women.

An array of admirable women are listed there, all of whom would provide wonderful role models (and lovely names) for any child.  The best:

ALICE Dunbar-Nelson — Journalist, poet, author.

BARBARA Jordan — Texas Congresswoman who won fame during Nixon impeachment hearings.

BESSIE Coleman — In 1922, became the world’s only licensed black pilot.  She staged flying exhibitions to fund a school to train black aviationists.

CHARLOTTE Ray — In 1872, became the first black female lawyer.

CLARA Stanton Jones — The American Library Association’s first African-American president.

CLEMENTINE Hunter — African-American painter, born in 1887.

CONSTANCE Baker Motley — First black female federal judge.

CORETTA Scott King — Widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

DOROTHY West — Harlem Renaissance author.

ELLA Fitzgerald — Jazz singer.

FAYE Wattleton — Women’s rights activist.

GWENDOLYN Brooks — Poet and first African-American to win the Pulitzer.

HALLIE Quinn Brown — 19th century women’s rights activist.

HARRIET Tubman (born ARAMINTA Ross) — Escaped slave who became an abolitionist and Union spy; most famous for her work with the Underground Railroad.

IDA B. Wells-Barnett — Journalist and founding member of the NAACP.

JANE Bolin — Judge and community activist; first black woman to graduate from Yale Law School.

JOSEPHINE Baker — Politically-minded entertainer who was the Angelina Jolie of her day.

JUANITA Hall — First black actress to win a Tony Award.

KARA Walker — Artist best known for her silhouettes.

LENA Horne — Actress, singer, and civil rights activist.

LORRAINE Hansberry — Author of play “A Raisin in the Sun

MABEL Mercer — English singer.

MAHALIA Jackson — Gospel singer.

MARIAN Anderson — First black singer to perform with the Metropolitan Opera.

MARIAN Wright Edelman — Children’s Defense Fund founder.

NATALIE Hinderas — Composer and classical musician.

OCTAVIA Victoria Rogers Albert — Author and teacher.

PEARL Bailey — Actress and singer.

PHILLIS Wheatley — First published African-American female poet.  The name Phillis or Phyllis, the Roman goddess of spring, was typical of the classical names given to early African-Americans.

PRUDENCE Crandall — White woman arrested for teaching black girls at her school in 1833.

ROSA Parks — Heroine of the famous bus boycott that launched the civil rights movement.

ROSETTA Tharpe — Jazz and blues singer and songwriter.

RUBY Dee — Actress.

SADIE Tanner Mossell Alexander — The first African-American Ph.D. in economics.

SARAH Vaughan — Jazz musician.

SHIRLEY Chisholm — First black woman elected to Congress.

SOJOURNER Truth — Abolitionist and women’s rights activist.

SUSIE King Taylor — Ex-slave who became Civil War nurse.

TONI Morrison — Novelist who won the Nobel Prize in literature.

VIOLETTE Neatley Anderson — In the 1920s, became the first black female attorney to argue cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

WILMA Rudolph — Olympic runner.

ZENSI MIRIAM Makeba — African singer.

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16 Responses to “African-American Heroine Names”

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Melissa Says:

February 27th, 2009 at 8:13 am

I would add Phyllis Wheatley to this list, too.

realpraise Says:

February 27th, 2009 at 9:39 am

I was wondering where Phyllis Wheatley was also! Clementine and Alice are my favorites.

Lola Says:

February 27th, 2009 at 10:17 am

Yet another reaon to consider Clementine as a sister to Josephine. 🙂
I also like Bessie, Clara, Gwendolyn, Jane, Marian, Violette & Wilma.

Awesome list!

Sarah Says:

February 27th, 2009 at 10:52 am

Another Martin Luther King relative, (his niece), is active in civil rights today and also has a unique name. Dr. Alveda King.

pam Says:

February 27th, 2009 at 11:46 am

Added Phillis/Phyllis Wheatley — thanks!

chloezoe Says:

February 27th, 2009 at 2:09 pm

And Zora for Zora Neale Hurston!

Emmy Jo Says:

February 28th, 2009 at 10:47 pm

Great list! I love Clara, Dorothy, Gwendolyn, Miriam, Rosa, Octavia, Lena, and Clementine.

And either Sojourner or Truth could make a great name choice for daring parents.

I’ve often thought that Coretta would be a lovely heroine name, but I wonder if its use by non-African-American parents would be seen as strange. What do you think?

Esme Says:

March 1st, 2009 at 8:48 am

Don’t forget Josephine Baker- performer and activist. She was so popular even then Nazi Party were afraid to cause her harm.

Pam Says:

March 1st, 2009 at 2:15 pm

Of course! Good catch. I added her.

Pam Says:

March 1st, 2009 at 2:16 pm

And to Emmy Jo, I agree that using a name like Coretta if you’re not African American might seem strange, but I hope that will soon be a thing of the past.

tc Says:

March 4th, 2009 at 12:29 pm

Perhaps Shirley deserves a mention too, for Shirley Chisholm (first black woman elected to Congress).

I wonder how on earth Deborah Sampson Gannett got on that list? Not that she wasn’t awesome, but her genealogy is very well documented, and she was about as white a New Englander as they came.

I hope Coretta does come into wider use!

pam Says:

March 4th, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Oy! How embarrassing. That’s what you get when you trust a calendar as a source. I’m going to remove her now in the interest of posterity and add Shirleyy.

Carissa Says:

March 4th, 2009 at 3:38 pm

What about Harriet Tubman (Underground Railroad)?

pam Says:

March 4th, 2009 at 4:05 pm

Doh! She’s on now. Thanks.

arkisha Says:

July 11th, 2010 at 11:31 am

Zora Neale Hurston

chakrateeze Says:

December 22nd, 2010 at 7:41 am

why isn’t Lena included “girl nicknames” blog? It’s so cute!

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