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Black History Names

Black History Names
Black history names include the names of African-Americans throughout US history who've achieved extraordinary things.

Among the Black history names here are the names of politicians, activists, writers, artists, businesspeople and others who might make worthy namesakes for contemporary babies.

Black history names come from centuries of history, from the Renaissance to the late twentieth century. Note: While there are many notable figures from Black and African-American history with ordinary names, we've focused on the names that are more clearly associated with historic heroes and heroines. Also here are many last names that can be used as firsts.

To learn more about the figures these Black history names commemorate, see our main blog on Black history names.

HazelHeart

  • Origin:

    English
  • Meaning:

    "the hazelnut tree"
  • Description:

    Hazel is a name applied from the English word hazel, referring to the hazelnut tree. The word was derived from the Old English hæsel of the same meaning. Historically, a wand of hazel symbolized protection and authority.

AugustHeart

  • Origin:

    German form of Latin Augustus
  • Meaning:

    "great, magnificent"
  • Description:

    August is THE celebrity baby name of the moment, chosen by both Princess Eugenie and Mandy Moore for their baby boys in early 2021. Before that, August had been heating up in Hollywood – used by Mariska Hargitay and Peter Hermann, Lena Olin, Dave Matthews and Jeanne Tripplehorn for their sons, and is rapidly becoming the preferred month of the year for boys' names. The month of August was named after the Emperor Augustus.

JosephineHeart

  • Origin:

    French feminine variation of Joseph
  • Meaning:

    "Jehovah increases"
  • Description:

    Josephine is the feminine form of Joseph, a name ultimately derived from the Hebrew Yosef, meaning "Jehovah increases." In French it has an accent over the first E, which was omitted in the English, German, and Dutch translations of the name. Empress Joséphine du Beauharnais was born Marie-Josephe-Rose, but called Josephine by her husband, Napolean Bonaparte.

MilesHeart

  • Origin:

    English form of Milo
  • Meaning:

    "soldier or merciful"
  • Description:

    Miles, which took on a permanent veneer of cool thanks to jazz great Miles Davis, is a confident and polished boy name starting with M that has been appreciated in particular by celebrity baby namers, including Elisabeth Shue, Mayim Bialik, Larenz Tate, Joan Cusack and Lionel Ritchie.

CoraHeart

  • Origin:

    Greek
  • Meaning:

    "maiden"
  • Description:

    In classical mythology, Cora—or Kore—was a euphemistic name of Persephone, goddess of fertility and the underworld. Kore was the name used when referencing her identity as the goddess of Spring, while Persephone referred to her role as queen of the Underworld. Cora gained popularity as a given name after James Fenimore Cooper used it as the name of his heroine, Cora Munro, in his 1826 novel The Last of the Mohicans.

ClementineHeart

  • Origin:

    French feminine version of Clement, Latin
  • Meaning:

    "mild, merciful"
  • Description:

    Clementine is a Nameberry favorite that has finally broken back into the US Top 1000 after more than half a century off the list. Still, its style value may mean there are more Clementines than you might guess in your neighborhood—it may be a name that raises Mom's eyebrows, but it won't surprise your friends.

LeviHeart

  • Origin:

    Hebrew
  • Meaning:

    "joined, attached"
  • Description:

    In the Old Testament, Levi was the third son of Leah and Jacob, from whom the priestly tribe of Levites descended; in the New Testament, Levi was Matthew's given name before he became an apostle. It is suspected that Levi derives from the Hebrew word yillaweh, meaning “he will join.”

EllaHeart

  • Origin:

    German; English
  • Meaning:

    "all, completely; fairy maiden"
  • Description:

    Ella has parallel derivations, first as the Norman variation of the Germanic Alia—itself a nickname for names containing the element ali. It’s also a Hebrew name, referring to a tree in the pistachio family or in modern Hebrew, "goddess." In English speaking countries and Scandinavia, Ella developed as a diminutive for names beginning with El-, such as Eleanor and Elizabeth.

JacobHeart

  • Origin:

    Hebrew
  • Meaning:

    "supplanter"
  • Description:

    Jacob comes from the Latin name Iacobus, which was ultimately derived from the Hebrew name Ya’aqov. In the Old Testament, Jacob was one of the most important patriarchs of the tribes of Israel. He was the youngest son of Isaac and Rebecca and the twin brother of Esau, as well as the husband of both Leah and Rachel. The 12 tribes of Israel evolved from his 12 sons.

MayaHeart

  • Origin:

    Greek mythology name; Central American Indian empire name; Latinate variation of May; Spanish, diminutive of Amalia; variation of Maia; Hebrew
  • Meaning:

    "water"
  • Description:

    In addition to being the name of a Central American culture, Maya was the legendary Greek mother of Hermes by Zeus, and means "illusion" in Sanskrit and Eastern Pantheism. It can also be spelled Maia, though both names have so many possible origins and meanings that not all of them are related. To the Romans, Maia/Maya was the incarnation of the earth mother and goddess of spring, after whom they named the month of May.

AsaHeart

  • Origin:

    Hebrew; Japanese
  • Meaning:

    "healer; born in the morning"
  • Description:

    A short but strong biblical name with multicultural appeal, Asa is enjoying new visibility thanks to hot young actor Asa Butterfield of Hugo fame.

AltheaHeart

  • Origin:

    Greek
  • Meaning:

    "with healing power"
  • Description:

    Althea is a poetic, almost ethereal name found in Greek myth and pastoral poetry, associated in modern times with the great tennis player Althea Gibson, the first African-American to win at Wimbleton.

LenaHeart

  • Origin:

    English, Scottish, Dutch, German, and Scandinavian, diminutive of various names ending in lena
  • Description:

    This pet form of Helena and other ena-ending names, long used as an independent name, is attracting notice again as an option both multicultural and simple. Lena was a Top 100 name from 1880 to 1920.

HarrietHeart

  • Origin:

    English variation of French Henriette
  • Meaning:

    "estate ruler"
  • Description:

    Harriet has long been considered a stylish, upscale name in England, but it's still waiting to be revived in the US—though some parents seeking a solid, serious semi-classic are beginning to consider it.

LincolnHeart

  • Origin:

    English
  • Meaning:

    "town by the pool"
  • Description:

    Lincoln cracked the Top 50 for boys' names for the first time in 2016, more than 150 years after the death of its most famous bearer. This is especially remarkable because, as crazy as it seems now, Lincoln was deeply out of fashion as recently as the late 90s, consistently hovering near the bottom of the Top 1000. This admirable presidential choice with a stylish two-syllable sound projects the tall, rangy, upright, image of Honest Abe. Bill Murray is father to a son named Lincoln, and Kathryn Erbe's boy Carson has Lincoln for his middle name. Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard gender-bent it for their daughter.

MalcolmHeart

  • Origin:

    Scottish
  • Meaning:

    "devotee of St. Colomba"
  • Description:

    Malcolm is a warm and welcoming Scottish appellation (originally Mael-Colium) that fits into that golden circle of names that are distinctive but not at all odd. A royal name in Scotland, Malcolm is also a hero name for many via radical civil rights activist Malcolm X.

JesseHeart

  • Origin:

    Hebrew
  • Meaning:

    "gift"
  • Description:

    King David's father turned 1980s cowboy, Jesse is now down in popularity. The name is associated with a wide variety of bearers, from outlaw Jesse James to Olympic athlete Jesse Owens to activist Jesse Jackson to current actors Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Jesse Eisenberg. The spelling Jesse is more usual as a boys' name while Jessie is more traditional for girls.

MordecaiHeart

  • Origin:

    Hebrew
  • Meaning:

    "follower of Marduk"
  • Description:

    Mordecai, although it has a noble heritage, has never caught on in this country, because of its rather weighty image.

WellsHeart

  • Origin:

    Surname from place name
  • Meaning:

    "spring"
  • Description:

    Wells is a newly-famous baby name thanks to pregnancy guru Rosie Pope, who uses it as the short form of the buttoned-up Wellington, name of her youngest child.

JacksonHeart

  • Origin:

    English
  • Meaning:

    "son of Jack"
  • Description:

    Cool name Jackson is one of the celebrisphere's top favorite boy names, having been chosen by, among others, Spike Lee, Poppy Montgomery, Carson Daly, Maria Bello, Natalie Maines, Scott Wolf, Maya Rudolph, and Katey Sagal. After a spectacular rise, this stylish presidential name has been in the Top 25 since 2010, overtaking John as one of the most popular boy names starting with J.

ConstanceHeart

  • Origin:

    English version of Latin Constantia
  • Meaning:

    "steadfastness"
  • Description:

    Constance is one of the more subtle of the virtue baby names, but still has quite a prim and proper image. One impediment to its revival has been the decidedly dated nickname Connie, though modern parents might well opt for using the strong and dignified name in full.

RoscoeHeart

  • Origin:

    Norse
  • Meaning:

    "deer forest"
  • Description:

    Fairly popular a hundred years ago but out of sight now, the quirky Roscoe deserves a place on every adventurous baby-namer's long list. It joins Rufus, Roman, Remy, Romulus, and Ray as one of the R names that sound fresh again after too many years of Robert, Richard, and Ronald.

IdaHeart

  • Origin:

    German
  • Meaning:

    "industrious one"
  • Description:

    Many vowel names stylish a century ago are coming back, and Ida seems like a possible, logical successor to Ada and Ava.

SolomonHeart

  • Origin:

    Hebrew
  • Meaning:

    "peace"
  • Description:

    Solomon, a name that evokes wisdom and peace, is an Old Testament name that, along with other patriarchal classics, is finally beginning to shed its long white beard and step from the pages of the Old Testament into modern nurseries.

KingHeart

  • Origin:

    English
  • Meaning:

    "monarch"
  • Description:

    King is a name that sends a mixed message. While some might think of it as more fitting for a canine, others see it as a strong name with offbeat style and a full court of rich associations, from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Elvis.

    King Vidor was an important early Hollywood director; King Camp Gillette invented the safety razor.

    If it's king names you're after that aren't King itself, see our list of Names with Royal Meanings or other lists and blogs on royal names.

SonnyHeart

  • Origin:

    Nickname for "son"
  • Meaning:

    "son"
  • Description:

    Sonny is one of the generic boy nickname names making a surprise reappearance, and it was recently used by actor Jason Lee. Another surprise: It's been on the US Top 1000 list every year since 1927, reaching a peak in 1975, when it hit Number 428.

OpalHeart

  • Origin:

    Sanskrit
  • Meaning:

    "gem"
  • Description:

    Opal is on the verge of a repolishing, following other jewel names like Ruby and Pearl. A Top 100 name during the first two decades of the twentieth century, the opalescent Opal has a good chance of coming back as another O-initial option.

ZoraHeart

  • Origin:

    Serbo-Croatian
  • Meaning:

    "dawn"
  • Description:

    Zora is a meaningful literary heroine name honoring Zora Neale Hurston, an important black writer and leader of the Harlem Renaissance.

BillieHeart

  • Origin:

    English, diminutive of Wilhelmina, Wilma
  • Meaning:

    "resolute protection"
  • Description:

    Billie is a tomboy nickname name, part of the growing trend for using boyish nicknames for girls and now destined for stardom along with its most famous contemporary bearer, music sensation Billie Eilish.

GwendolynHeart

  • Origin:

    Variation of Gwendolen, Welsh
  • Meaning:

    "white ring"
  • Description:

    One spelling variation that's more popular than the original, this somewhat old-fashioned name might be in honor of poet Gwendolyn Brooks, the first African-American to win a Pulitzer prize for poetry, or may be a way to get to the modern short form Gwen.

DorotheaHeart

  • Origin:

    Greek
  • Meaning:

    "gift of God"
  • Description:

    Dorothea is a flowing and romantic Victorian-sounding name which was popular in the early decades of the twentieth century, but has been off the charts since 1970. Definitely on the brink of a revival!

CamillaHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "young ceremonial attendant"
  • Description:

    The Spanish Camila, pronounced ka-MEE-la, is the fastest rising version of this ancient Roman name, but recent royal Camilla may have helped promote the British brand. In Roman myth, Camilla was a swift-footed huntress so fast she could run over a field without bending a blade of grass.

CorneliusHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "horn"
  • Description:

    Cornelius, the New Testament name of a third century Pope and saint, is one of those venerable Latin names on the edge of consideration, despite the corny nickname alert.

MinnieHeart

  • Origin:

    Diminutive of Minerva
  • Meaning:

    "of the mind, intellect"
  • Description:

    Minnie was wildly popular at the turn of the last century—it was the fifth or sixth most popular name throughout the 1880s—but is completely obscure today. Blame Mickey's girlfriend. Regardless, it's possible that the up and coming trend toward old-fashioned nickname-names—think Maisie, Mamie, Millie—may give Minnie (all on its own, not as a short form of anything) a new moment in the sun. Minnie Driver (born Amelia) has given it some modern celeb cred.

ArchibaldHeart

  • Origin:

    Teutonic
  • Meaning:

    "truly brave"
  • Description:

    The short form Archie is so open and friendly --and very trendy in the British Isles--that some parents are now beginning to consider the formerly fusty Archibald as well. SNL comedians Amy Poehler and Will Arnett are one couple who made this breakthrough choice.

RosaHeart

  • Origin:

    Latinate variation of Rose
  • Meaning:

    "rose, a flower"
  • Description:

    As sweet-smelling as Rose but with an international flavour, Rosa is one of the most classic Portuguese, Spanish and Italian names, which is also favored by upper-class Brits, having an ample measure of vintage charm. Rosa has been on the popularity charts for every year that's been counted, especially popular from the 1880s through the beginning of the twentieth century.

SalemHeart

  • Origin:

    Biblical place-name or Arabic
  • Meaning:

    "safe"
  • Description:

    Salem is a Biblical place name in Canaan, believed to be the same as Jerusalem, as well as the Massachusetts town famous for its late 17th century witch trials. Salem is also a popular first name in its own right throughout the Arabic world.

UlyssesHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin variation of the Greek Odysseus
  • Description:

    Ulysses is one of the few U boys' names anyone knows -- with heavy links to the Homeric hero, eighteenth president Grant, and the James Joyce novel -- all of which makes it both distinguished and kind of weighty for a modern boy. Ulysses was on the US popularity list well into the twenty-first century; it's off now, but Number 684 on Nameberry.

MartinHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "warlike"
  • Description:

    Martin is one of those names like Arthur and Vincent and George that is in the process of throwing off its balding middle-aged image to start sounding possible again, used in full without the dated Marty nickname.

RhodesHeart

  • Origin:

    Greek
  • Meaning:

    "where roses grow"
  • Description:

    A Greek island and a prestigious scholarship make an upper-crusty first name with the uber-stylish S ending. Rhodes was recently chosen by actress Emma Roberts for her son, born in 2020.

HarrisHeart

  • Origin:

    English
  • Meaning:

    "son of Harry"
  • Description:

    When Harrison is too much, but Harry isn't enough, try this stylish surname name with a touch of British flair. It briefly reentered the US Top 1000 for the first time since 1988 in 2016, but has since dropped just below the radar again.

SidneyHeart

  • Origin:

    French
  • Meaning:

    "Saint Denis"
  • Description:

    A contraction name, Sidney comes from Saint Denis and is related to Dioynsius, the Greek god of fertility and wine, although another theory is that it derived from an Anglo-Saxon place name, meaning 'at the wide island.'

LutherHeart

  • Origin:

    German
  • Meaning:

    "army people"
  • Description:

    Once restricted to evangelical Protestants honoring the ecclesiastical reformer and theologian Martin Luther, leader of the Protestant revolution. In more recent times it has been favored by parents wishing to honor civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr. Luther was a Top 100 name at the turn of the last century, but fell off the list in the early 1990s.
    Luther Burbank was an eminent botanist and Luther Vandross was a popular R&B artist. It's the name of a main character on the Disney series Zeke and Luther. The name was given a shot of contemporary energy via Idris Elba's dynamic performance in the eponymous BBC crime drama.

ArtHeart

  • Origin:

    Diminutive of Arthur
  • Meaning:

    "noble one; bear man"
  • Description:

    Though short and brisk, no nickname name could have a more creative image. Comic actor Chris O'Dowd named his son Art, as in his native Ireland it's used as a name on its own, separate from Arthur., coming from an ancient word for “”a bear,”” and used in the sense of “”outstanding warrior”” or “”champion.”” A pagan High King of Ireland, Art’s rule was so honest that two angels hovered over him in battle.

TatumHeart

  • Origin:

    English
  • Meaning:

    "Tate's homestead"
  • Description:

    Tatum is one of the rare examples of a name that was exclusively female, as in Tatum O'Neal, but now is used for boys too, entering the male Top 1000 in 2010. Jazz legend Art Tatum and actor Channing Tatum are two notable male bearers, albeit as a surname. And country singer Luke Bryan recently named his son Tatum Christopher, to be called Tate. We also recommend the cool and crisp Tate as a standalone name.

SimeonHeart

  • Origin:

    Hebrew
  • Meaning:

    "he [God] has heard"
  • Description:

    Could Simeon be the next Gideon? Parents seeking a less simple form of Simon might consider this biblical appellation that was chosen by Wynton Marsalis for his son. Simon is actually the Greek substitute for Simeon.

GordonHeart

  • Origin:

    Scottish
  • Meaning:

    "great hill"
  • Description:

    As this long-term Age of Jordans, both male and female, begins to wind down, the neglected Scottish favorite Gordon, with its more distinguished history, could come back as a distinctive alternative. Gordon is one of the most classic authentically Scottish names for boys.

ClarissaHeart

  • Origin:

    Elaboration of Clara
  • Meaning:

    "bright, clear"
  • Description:

    Clarissa, the daintier version of Claire, has a long literary history of its own, having been featured in the novels of Samuel Richardson, Charles Dickens, and Virginia Woolf—Clarissa was the title character of Mrs. Dalloway—not to mention the 1990s teen sitcom, Clarissa Explains it All.

EbenezerHeart

  • Origin:

    Hebrew
  • Meaning:

    "stone of help"
  • Description:

    Ebenezer is the name of a biblical place --the stone set up by Samuel to mark his victory over the Philistines--rather than a person. It was adopted by the British Puritans as a first name and then exported to America, where it had some early popularity, even entering the Top 1000 in the 1880s.

TheloniousHeart

  • Origin:

    Latinized variation of German Tillman, “one who plows the earth”
  • Description:

    One of the coolest of names, thanks to legendary jazz pianist Thelonious Sphere Monk, who inherited this Latin-sounding German name from his father. It has been used very sparingly since the 1960's, with just a sprinkling of baby boys receiving the name each year, though it's one of the unique baby names we predict will get much less unique as more parents embrace its quirky charms.
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