Black History Names: Cultural heroines of the Harlem Renaissance

This year in celebration of Black History Month we turn for naming inspiration to the cultural heroines of the Harlem Renaissance.  These women—novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, sculptors and musicians– all played significant roles in the movement that flourished from the end of World War I through the mid-1930s, during which a group of writers and other artists fostered an intellectual blossoming that was instrumental in forging a new black cultural identity.

The talented women listed below, some better known than others, would all provide great namesakes and role models for any child.

A’LELIA Walker—an African-American businesswoman who was an important patron of the artists of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s.

ALICE DunbarNelson — Journalist, poet, activist and prominent Harlem Renaissance figure.

ANGELINA Weld Grimké—Harlem Renaissance writer, one of the first black women to have a play performed in public.

ANITA Scott Coleman—Though born in Mexico and later a resident of the Southwest, Coleman published many short stories reflecting the themes of the Harlem Renaissance.

ARIEL Williams—a teacher, musician and published poet.

AUGUSTA Savage—a sculptor known for her bronze busts of Frederick Douglass, W. C. Handy, James Weldon Johnson and other prominent African Americans.

CLARISSA Scott Delaney—onetime secretary to Booker T. Washington, she was a poet whose subjects included Pan-Africanism and bi-racialism.

DOROTHY WestHarlem Renaissance novelist and short story writer, best known for her novel The Living is Easy, about an upscale black family. (shown at right)

EULALIE Spence—an actress, teacher and playwright during the Harlem Renaissance.

GEORGIA Douglas Johnson—a prolific poet and playwright whose Washington DC home was open to the leading black artists of the day, including Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen.

GWENDOLYN Brooks was the first African-American to win a Pulitzer Prize, for Poetry in 1950

HELENE Johnson—a Harlem Renaissance poet, cousin of Dorothy West; one of her innovative poems, ‘Bottled,’ appeared in the May 1927 Vanity Fair.

JESSIE Redmon Fauset—called by Langston Hughes a “mid-wife” of African-American literature, she was the literary editor of Crisis magazine and was the first black woman to be elected to Phi Beta Kappa.

LOIS Mailou Jones—a prize-winning artist who had a long and influential career, and whose work is represented in many major museums, including New York’s Metropolitan.

MARITA Bonner, whose writing dealt with issues of race, gender and class.

NELLA Larsen—a novelist who was the first African-American woman to win a Guggenheim fellowship for creative writing.

REGINA Anderson, New York City librarian who was one of three women to establish a salon for artists and intellectuals; helped found the Negro Experimental Theatre

ZORA Neale Hurston—one of the best known figures of the movement—though she died in poverty—particularly recognized for her 1937 novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Also considered part of the Harlem Renaissance were such entertainers as:

BESSIE Smith

BILLIE Holiday

ELLA Fitzgerald

ETHEL Waters

IVIE Anderson

JOSEPHINE Baker

LENA Horne

LIL Hardin Armstrong,

MAMIE Smith

MARIAN Anderson.

NINA Mae McKinney

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7 Responses to “Black History Names: Cultural heroines of the Harlem Renaissance”

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UrbanAngel Says:

February 19th, 2010 at 5:26 am

It’s always so interesting to me as someone who lives in South Africa to compare the African-American & Black-African names in Africa. There is such a huge difference. For me, ‘Black-African” names are names from the Bantu languages. Names like Simphiwe,Tebogo, Nandipha, Neo, Nckozana,Mandla, Ralephele,Tembiswa etc other names or styles of name that are popular in African culture are ‘word’ names like Happiness, Grateful, Princess, Mercy etc To meet someone named Princess would be the norm & accepted in Africa . It’s amazing how ‘Black’ names in America & ‘Black’ names in Africa are so different.

Please note, I purposefully specified what I was talking about as in South Africa there are 4 main races with each race having a certain style & there being different things that are the norm & acceptable for eah different ethnic group

Out of the names listed on the blog, most of them seem to be names that were popular or the norm during the specific decades

Nephele Says:

February 19th, 2010 at 7:40 am

I absolutely adore the name Eulalie. Now I must go read about Eulalie Spence! Thanks for a fascinating blog on notable women of the Harlem Renaissance, tied in with the subject of names.

twinkle Says:

February 19th, 2010 at 8:11 am

I love Dorothy 🙂
One of our dogs is Ella, after Ella Fitzgerald! The other is Aretha (Franklin).

teabee Says:

February 19th, 2010 at 4:35 pm

Thanks for such an inspiring list!

disa_lan Says:

February 22nd, 2010 at 3:03 am

Eulalie is so pretty!

Amantha Says:

March 7th, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Hi! I was wondering if you know of any anthologies that have Eulalie Spence’s plays Fool’s Errand, Her, The Hunch, and The Whipping? Even if it’s just one or two of these, that is most helpful!

shanetha Says:

June 5th, 2010 at 11:08 pm

Im naming my daughter Langston…its comes off manly at first but I think its softing as I use it more. I love Langston Hughes and I think she will love it.

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