The Power of a Name

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#1
angel-oak-1849-slave-inventory.jpg

Angel Oak Plantation, July 1849.
Slaves typically remained nameless from the time of their capture until their purchase by American masters. To show contempt for Slaves, the captors used “Buck” and “Wench” for naming the genders till they became trade terms, like “Filly” and “Shoat.” Contempt for the male was further noted by removing his attachment to fatherhood and manhood by addressing him as “Boy.” Once the vigorous years of his prime were passed, he was allowed to assume the title of “Uncle.” Females were called “Gal,” girl, or the name of some animal. This undoubtedly had a profound impact on the selfhood of each of the enslaved.

8805-trtworld-gallery-400624-439787.jpg

Poster for slave sale auction in Clarksburg, Kentucky on January 10, 1855, six years before the start of the American Civil War.​

Slaves generally had two names–the one given by the slave owner (e.g. Brutus) and a private name (e.g. Sabe, Anque, Bumbo, Jobah, Quamana, Taynay, and Yearie) used in the slave quarters. The private name offered them a sense of power over their captors and provided their children with a sense of heritage and pride. They wanted their children to enter the inhumane system of slavery protected by a sense of selfhood and history.

Of the 972 names of male slaves recorded between 1619 and 1799 the leading ones were Jack, Tom, Harry, Sam, Will, Caesar, Dick, John, Robin, Frank, Charles, Joe and Prince. The most common of 603 names of female Slaves were Bet, Mary, Jane, Hanna, Betty, Sarah, Phillis, Nan, Peg, and Sary.

Although masters often assigned names to newly purchased slaves that were whimsical, satirical, or condescending in intent, the frequent appearance of classical names such as Venus, Cato, Hercules, Bacchus, and Pompey reflected the planters' own educations and libraries. Slaves themselves sometimes chose names denoting weather conditions at the time of their child's birth or some distinctive feature of his or her appearance. Geographic names were common, as were the names of ships or distant ports for slaves born in places such as Wilmington, NC or New Bern, NC. Beginning in the early nineteenth century, more biblical names were given to slave children, a reflection of the widespread attempts to Christianize slave communities and their greater exposure to Bible stories.



References:
Cheryll Cody, "'There Was No Absalom on the Ball Plantation': Slave-Naming Practices in the South Carolina Low Country, 1720-1865," American Historical Review 92 (June 1987).

Herbert G. Gutman, The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925 (1976).

John C. Inscoe, "Carolina Slave Names: An Index to Acculturation," Journal of Southern History 59 (November 1983).
 

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NH Civil War Gal

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How did the name "mammy" come about? Sort of the opposite of Uncle but not quite. And what were the exact attributes? I think they had a respected post in the household.
 
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#3
How did the name "mammy" come about? Sort of the opposite of Uncle but not quite. And what were the exact attributes? I think they had a respected post in the household.
The word, “mammy” can be traced to the 15th century and appears to have begun as a derivative of “mama.” I was surprised to learn (per historian and writer, Catherine Clinton), that real antebellum mammies were rare. Documents from the planter class during the first fifty years following the American Revolution reveal only a handful of such examples. It really wasn’t until after Emancipation that black women began running white households or holding positions assigned to them in Civil War folklore and fiction.

The Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University has a webpage on the mammy caricature. This is an excerpt:

"From slavery through the Jim Crow era, the mammy image served the political, social, and economic interests of mainstream white America. During slavery, the mammy caricature was posited as proof that blacks -- in this case, black women -- were contented, even happy, as slaves. Her wide grin, hearty laughter, and loyal servitude were offered as evidence of the supposed humanity of the institution of slavery.

This was the mammy caricature, and, like all caricatures, it contained a little truth surrounded by a larger lie. The caricature portrayed an obese, coarse, maternal figure. She had great love for her white "family," but often treated her own family with disdain. Although she had children, sometimes many, she was completely desexualized. She "belonged" to the white family, though it was rarely stated. Unlike Sambo, she was a faithful worker. She had no black friends; the white family was her entire world. Obviously, the mammy caricature was more myth than accurate portrayal
."
 

Waterloo50

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#4
I have a question about something that puzzled me in the movie Django, now, I know that it was a fictitious story but the role of Sheba in the Candyland household has always struck me as being highly unlikely, for obvious or rather dubious reasons Sheba seemed to have privileges that went far beyond anything that a slave women could expect. My question really is, did that kind of relationship really happen, I would have expected that sort of thing to be totally brushed under the carpet and I can’t imagine that any slave owner would be so open about it.
I’m hoping that you don’t mind me asking, I don’t want to detract from the OP but looking at the names of slaves made me think about the character Sheba and her role within the movie.
Thanks.
 

TnFed

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#5
Yes, the idea of the happy mammy on every plantation is pretty much a myth of the old South. Not to say that they could not be beneficial and loving relationships. In the early 1930s there was a man who owned this shoe store in a small town in Western NC. His wife (the real brains of the Buisness) sent him out to hire a laborer for them. He came back with an 80 year old black man and an impoverished 11 year old boy ( the boy was my father). Not exactly the help that the lady expected. The kid was little and the black man had been born sometime before the civil war. That said, they stayed. The black man had an income and was comfortable in his declining years. He was buried in the merchants family graveyard, which caused a little talk amongst some of the locals.
The kid was given the educational opportunities that he most likely would never have had to help better his life. So while he need not bring home a big strapping man to help work the store. He certainly made an impact on an old man and a kid.
TnFed.
 
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#10
Ellie. Thanks for the interesting information on slave names. In graduate school I wrote a paper on the Gradual Abolition Act of Pennsylvania of 1780 and was able to track down the original slave registration booklet used by the authorities when listing their slaves. They actually had names for each slave including the new born slave infants. This act was the first piece of gradual abolition legislation passed by a democratic governmental body on the North American continent. It abolished slavery in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The story behind the development of this legislation is a very interesting piece of Pennsylvania history. David.
 

Pat Young

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#12
View attachment 273567
Angel Oak Plantation, July 1849.
Slaves typically remained nameless from the time of their capture until their purchase by American masters. To show contempt for Slaves, the captors used “Buck” and “Wench” for naming the genders till they became trade terms, like “Filly” and “Shoat.” Contempt for the male was further noted by removing his attachment to fatherhood and manhood by addressing him as “Boy.” Once the vigorous years of his prime were passed, he was allowed to assume the title of “Uncle.” Females were called “Gal,” girl, or the name of some animal. This undoubtedly had a profound impact on the selfhood of each of the enslaved.

View attachment 273568
Poster for slave sale auction in Clarksburg, Kentucky on January 10, 1855, six years before the start of the American Civil War.​

Slaves generally had two names–the one given by the slave owner (e.g. Brutus) and a private name (e.g. Sabe, Anque, Bumbo, Jobah, Quamana, Taynay, and Yearie) used in the slave quarters. The private name offered them a sense of power over their captors and provided their children with a sense of heritage and pride. They wanted their children to enter the inhumane system of slavery protected by a sense of selfhood and history.

Of the 972 names of male slaves recorded between 1619 and 1799 the leading ones were Jack, Tom, Harry, Sam, Will, Caesar, Dick, John, Robin, Frank, Charles, Joe and Prince. The most common of 603 names of female Slaves were Bet, Mary, Jane, Hanna, Betty, Sarah, Phillis, Nan, Peg, and Sary.

Although masters often assigned names to newly purchased slaves that were whimsical, satirical, or condescending in intent, the frequent appearance of classical names such as Venus, Cato, Hercules, Bacchus, and Pompey reflected the planters' own educations and libraries. Slaves themselves sometimes chose names denoting weather conditions at the time of their child's birth or some distinctive feature of his or her appearance. Geographic names were common, as were the names of ships or distant ports for slaves born in places such as Wilmington, NC or New Bern, NC. Beginning in the early nineteenth century, more biblical names were given to slave children, a reflection of the widespread attempts to Christianize slave communities and their greater exposure to Bible stories.



References:
Cheryll Cody, "'There Was No Absalom on the Ball Plantation': Slave-Naming Practices in the South Carolina Low Country, 1720-1865," American Historical Review 92 (June 1987).

Herbert G. Gutman, The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925 (1976).

John C. Inscoe, "Carolina Slave Names: An Index to Acculturation," Journal of Southern History 59 (November 1983).
Great post. Thanks.

The lack of last names had big implications at the end of slavery. Since family members were often sold away from each other, after Emancipation freed people would publish ads with detailed descriptions of the person they were looking for since they could not simply give a first and last name.
 

byron ed

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#13
...to understand why civil rights leader Malcolm had changed his surname to "X." It was of course to reject that a heritage slave master be allowed even a mere sliver of ownership a hundred years later.

It also so happens "X" was a skin branding that many enslaved Africans received on their upper arm, and that in algebra "X" represents an unknown, as in heritage slave families not knowing the true name of their African antecedent.
 
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lelliott19

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One topic that is not often discussed here is the difficulty in tracing enslaved ancestors. I've been doing some research on this particular topic and discovered that, besides the division between children, the courts often ordered the sale of enslaved as part of the settlement of estates. It's a shame there is not a designated place to post information when it is located. I imagine it might prove quite valuable for people today who are looking for their ancestors.

After the death of their husband, widows were not allowed to act as Guardian of their own children, and so the courts appointed a man to act as guardian. Oftentimes, enslaved individuals owned by the deceased father would be sold by order of the court to finance the upkeep and schooling of the children. Personal property was sold, too. I found one instance where the Family Bible and a prayer book were sold as part of the estate. If the widow wanted to retain the items being sold, she had to buy them at auction - even the bible.

Tracing enslaved people through these various sales and divisions is an enormous challenge and often impossible. Enslaved individuals are usually listed by first name and sometimes age, but with only a first name, you would have to know the name of the owner to find them. Here is one example I found difficult to follow:

Northampton County December Court 1824
Ordered that Allen Deberry esquire, Jacob Liles, Turner Peebles & John D Maget, or any three of them divide the Negroes belonging to the estate of Margarette Ann Darden dec'd Among the Distributees and make report thereof to the Courts.
1550186578623.png

??13th Dec 1824 <no idea what the rest says>
Pursuant to an order of the worshipfull[sic] court of Northampton we the undersigned have divided the negroes held and belonging in common to Hugh G Darden and Margaret Ann Darden orphans of Elijah Darden dec'd and have set a part to Hugh G Darden Negroes large Jim, Little Jim, Rose, Miles, Patsey, Zack valued at Seventeen hundred Dollars and have set a part to the estate of Margaret Ann Darden Negroes Zoe, Lemuel, Permilla, Reddick, Dock, Washington and Amos valued at Seventeen hundred and Fifty Dollars.
1550186918303.png
1550187506692.png

Ok, I think I can follow the division up to here, but it gets even more confusing after Margaret dies. Here is the rest of the page:

....and we have now subdivided the lot of Negros set apart to Margaret Ann Darden between Hugh G Darden and Nath'l Norfleet in right of his wife Joannah and have set apart to said Nath'l Norfleet Negroes, Zoe and Lemuel valued at eight hundred and Twenty five Dollars and to Hugh G Darden Negroes Permilla, Reddick, Dick, Washington & Amos valued at nine hundred and Twenty five Dollars and the said Hugh S Darden is to pay to the said Nath'l Norfleet the sum of eighty seven Dollars and Fifty cents - in said division given under our hands and seals this 29th day of December 1824.
1550187761937.png

[North Carolina Estate Files 1663-1979, Northampton County, Elijah Darden (d.1816), p. 35.]
 
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