Early African-American Names

Early African-American Names

Until recently, scholarly consensus was that early African American names did not differ significantly from those of white Americans. Distinctively Black names were thought to have risen from the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements, which promoted the use of names with connections to Africa.

However, research by Lisa D. Cook and colleagues has revealed evidence of racialized names from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They identified 21 distinctly Black male names, among them biblical classics such as Abraham and Moses, and word names including Freeman and Prince.

Along with Abraham and Prince, other early African American names currently in the US Top 1000 include Alonzo, Athena, Daphne, Elijah, Isaiah, Israel, King, Phoebe, and Titus.

Place names that were disproportionately popular among Black Americans in history include Boston, Jamaica, York, and Africa.

Also included here are common names among enslaved people, many of which were classical and had ties to the Bible or mythology, such as Keziah and Venus, Cassius and Cato.

Here, our list of notable early African American names, ordered by their current popularity on Nameberry.

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Black Hero Names

Black History Names

  1. Daphne
    • Origin:

      Greek
    • Meaning:

      "laurel tree, bay tree"
    • Description:

      In Greek mythology, Daphne was the nymph daughter of Peneus, a river god. Peneus saved Daphne from Apollo’s romantic obsessions by transforming her into a laurel tree. It is from this myth that the plant genus daphne, which contains the laurel species, gets its name.
  2. Phoebe
    • Origin:

      Greek
    • Meaning:

      "radiant, shining one"
    • Description:

      Phoebe is the Latin variation of the Greek name Phoibe, which derived from phoibos, meaning "bright." In classical mythology, Phoebe is the by-name of Artemis, goddess of the moon and of hunting. The masculine version of Phoebe is Phoebus.
  3. Elijah
    • Origin:

      Hebrew
    • Meaning:

      "Yahweh is God"
    • Description:

      The Top 10 boys' name Elijah is derived from the Hebrew name Eliyahu, composed of the elements ’el and yah, both of which refer to God. In the Old Testament, Elijah was the prophet who went to heaven in a chariot of fire, a story sure to inspire any young Elijah.
  4. Ambrose
    • Origin:

      Latin
    • Meaning:

      "immortal"
    • Description:

      Gentle but grandiose and beloved by British novelists including Evelyn Waugh and P. G. Wodehouse, Ambrose was a fast rising name in 2022. Entering the UK Top 1000 for the first time and proving popular among Nameberry users, its elegance, softness, and vintage style means it fits in with popular Theodore, Sebastian, and Jeremiah.
  5. Isaac
    • Origin:

      Hebrew
    • Meaning:

      "laughter"
    • Description:

      Isaac has shaved off his biblical beard and leaped into the upper echelon of popular boys' names, outrunning cousin Isaiah. A favorite of the Puritans, Isaac has never dipped below Number 400 on the US list of top boy names.
  6. Flora
    • Origin:

      Latin
    • Meaning:

      "flower"
    • Description:

      Flora, the name of the Roman goddess of flowers and spring, who enjoyed eternal youth, is one of the gently old-fashioned girls' flower names we think is due for a comeback— alongside cousins Cora and Dora. Florence, Fiorella, Fleur, and Flower are translations, but we like Flora best of all.
  7. Wesley
    • Origin:

      English
    • Meaning:

      "western meadow"
    • Description:

      Reminiscent of the Old West, with rugged charm and a gentle, easy-going feel, Wesley has long been a staple on the US charts.
  8. Lysander
    • Origin:

      Greek
    • Meaning:

      "liberator"
    • Description:

      Lysander is a distinctive Greek name that could be thought of as a more creative cousin of Alexander. In ancient history, Lysander was the name of an esteemed Spartan naval commander and his literary cred comes from one of the two star-struck young men in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, as well as one of the twin sons (the other being Lorcan) of Luna Lovegood, whom we learn about in the Harry Potter epilogue.
  9. Jonah
    • Origin:

      Hebrew
    • Meaning:

      "dove"
    • Description:

      Jonah, the name of the Old Testament prophet who was swallowed by the whale, only to emerge unharmed three days later, is increasingly appreciated by parents looking for a biblical name less common than Jacob or Joshua, yet not too obscure. Plus, Jonah comes with a ready-made nursery-decorating motif.
  10. Athena
    • Origin:

      Greek
    • Meaning:

      "from Athens"
    • Description:

      The given name Athena was derived from the city name Athens, which is of uncertain origins. In Greek mythology, Athena is the name of the daughter of Zeus who was the goddess of wisdom, warfare, handicrafts, mathematics, and courage, among others. She was the great patroness-goddess of the city of Athens. In the Odyssey, Homer describes her as 'sparkling-eyed Athena.'
  11. Apollo
    • Origin:

      Greek mythology name
    • Meaning:

      "destroyer"
    • Description:

      With mythological names rising, the handsome son of Zeus and god of medicine, music, and poetry among many other things might offer an interesting, if high-pressure, option.
  12. Percy
    • Origin:

      French surname from place name Perci-en-Auge
    • Description:

      Percy is an adorable old name that is finally shedding its pampered Little Lord Fauntleroy image in this new era of boys with soft yet traditionally male names like Jasper and Elijah. Originating as an aristocratic Norman name, Percy became fairly widespread in England--and to some extent in the US--as an offshoot of the fame of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.
  13. Keziah
    • Origin:

      Hebrew
    • Meaning:

      "cassia tree"
    • Description:

      This lively Old Testament nature name (belonging to one of the three beautiful daughters of Job) may be missing from the current US Top 1000 list, but it ranks highly here on Nameberry — making it one to watch!
  14. Cassandra
    • Origin:

      Greek
    • Meaning:

      "shining or excelling man"
    • Description:

      The name of the tragic mythological Trojan princess who was given the gift of prophecy by Apollo, but was condemned never to be believed, Cassandra has been used for striking characters in movies and soap operas. Ethereal and delicate, Cassandra was in the Top 70 throughout the 1990s but is now descending in popularity.
  15. Spencer
    • Origin:

      English
    • Meaning:

      "house steward, dispenser of provisions"
    • Description:

      Spencer is a name that has everything: it's both distinguished sounding and accessible, dignified but Spencer Tracy-like friendly. Picked by several celebrities (a couple of times even for a girl), adding up to an enthusiastically recommended choice.
  16. Isaiah
    • Origin:

      Hebrew
    • Meaning:

      "Salvation of the Lord"
    • Description:

      Isaiah, like brethren Isaac and Elijah, is a once neglected biblical name now firmly back in favor, already surpassing such long-popular Old Testament stalwarts as Aaron and Adam. Isaiah has ranked on the US Top 1000 list for boys every year but two, 1969 and 1970.
  17. Minerva
    • Origin:

      Latin
    • Meaning:

      "of the mind, intellect"
    • Description:

      Minerva is the long-neglected name of the Roman goddess of wisdom and invention, the arts and martial strength, one of the mythology names for girls that might appeal to adventurous feminist parents. With Juno and Jupiter, she made the Capitoline triad, whose worship was at the very center of Roman religion.
  18. Abel
    • Origin:

      Hebrew
    • Meaning:

      "breath"
    • Description:

      Abel, the name of Adam and Eve's unfortunate younger son, compensates with positive connotations: capable, competent, ready and willing.
  19. Titus
    • Origin:

      Latin, meaning unknown, possibly "title of honour"
    • Meaning:

      "title of honour"
    • Description:

      Titus, once seen as a slightly forbidding Roman, New Testament, and Shakespearean name, was brought back to contemporary life in the USA by the TV series Titus 2000, increasing in popularity along with other revived ancient names like Linus and Silas.
  20. Cato
    • Origin:

      Latin
    • Meaning:

      "all-knowing"
    • Description:

      Cato conjures up images of ancient Roman statesmen and southern antebellum retainers; it could have revival potential, with its 'O' ending and the current interest in the names of Greek and Roman antiquity.