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AFRICAN-AMERICAN NAMES: Early Day, Place, and Word Names

October 15, 2009 Pamela Redmond

Here is another excerpt from our latest book, Beyond Ava & Aiden: The Enlightened Guide to Naming Your Baby

In Colonial times, as many as twenty percent of the slaves in the Carolinas bore African names, most notably day names, which relate to the day of the week on which the person was born. The West African day names, often translated to English cognates such as Judy for Juba or Joe for Cudjoe, are:

SUNDAY — QUASHEBA (female); QUASHEE (male)
MONDAYJUBA; CUDJOE
TUESDAY –BENEBA; CUBBENAH
WEDNESDAYCUBA; QUACO
THURSDAY — ABBA; QUAO
FRIDAY — PHEBE/PHIBBI; CUFF/CUFFEE
SATURDAY — MIMBA; QUAME/KWAME

Names were also chosen that signified months of the year, seasons and holidays. Some of these that have survived on the roles include: MONDAY, FRIDAY, CHRISTMAS, EASTER, MARCH and JULY.

Place names, sometimes signifying a site of importance to the slave owner, sometimes relating to one  meaningful to the African-American parents,  were also commonly used– as many as a quarter of male slaves received a place-name in the mid-1700s. Among those found:

ABERDEEN
AFRICA
ALBEMARLE
AMERICA
BALTIMORE
BARBARY
BOSTON
CAROLINA
CONGO
DUBLIN
GLASGOW
LONDON
NORFOLK
RICHMOND
WILLIAMSBURG
WINDSOR
YORK

Most avant-garde sounding to our modern ears are the word names used for and by African-Americans, signifying everything from the weather to virtues  à la the Puritan naming traditions. Their use  relates to the African belief in the power of a name to shape personality or influence fate or impart a certain quality – though many are far from uplifting. Some virtue and word names recorded among early African-Americans are:

Female

CHARITY afamboys
DIAMOND
EARTH/EARTHA
HONOR
HOPE
JEWEL
LOVE
MOURNING
OBEDIENCE
PATIENCE
PROVIDENCE
QUEEN
TEMPERANCE

Male
CALIFORNIA GOLD
DUKE
FORLORN
GOODLUCK
HARDTIMES
JUSTICE
KING
LOWLIFE
MAJOR
MISERY
PLENTY
PRINCE
SQUIRE
SUFFER
VICE

Both
CHANCE
FORTUNE
FREEZE
LIBERTY
PLEASANT
RAINYavaaidencover
STARRY
STORMY

For more on African-American naming history, see our new book Beyond Ava & Aiden: The Enlightened Guide to Naming Your Baby from which this post was adapted.

About the author

Pamela Redmond

Pamela Redmond is the cocreator and CEO of Nameberry. The coauthor of ten bestselling baby name books, Redmond is an internationally-recognized name expert, quoted and published widely in such media outlets as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Today Show,, CNN, and the BBC. Redmond is also a New York Times bestselling novelist whose books include Younger, the basis for the hit television show of the same name.

View all of Pamela Redmond's articles

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