Slave name

A slave name is the personal name given by others to an enslaved person, or a name inherited from enslaved ancestors. Modern use of the term applies mostly to African-Americans and West Indians descended from enslaved Africans who retain the name given to their ancestors by the enslavers.

Changing from a slave name to a name embodying an African identity became common after emancipation by those in the African Diaspora seeking a reconnection to their cultural roots.

Ancient Rome

In Rome slaves were given a single name by their owner. A slave who was freed might keep his or her slave name and adopt the former owner's name as a praenomen and nomen. As an example, one historian says that "a man named Publius Larcius freed a male slave named Nicia, who was then called Publius Larcius Nicia."[1]

Historian Harold Whetstone Johnston writes of instances in which a slave's former owner chose to ignore custom and simply chose a name for the freedman.[2]

African Americans

A number of African-Americans and Jamaican Americans have changed their names out of the belief that the names they were given at birth were slave names. An individual's name change often coincides with a religious conversion (Muhammad Ali changed his name from Cassius Clay, Malcolm X from Malcolm Little, and Louis Farrakhan changed his from Louis Eugene Walcott, for example)[3][4] or involvement with the black nationalist movement (e.g., Amiri Baraka and Assata Shakur).[5]

Some organizations encourage African-Americans to abandon their slave names. The Nation of Islam is perhaps the best-known of them. In his book, Message to the Blackman in America, Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad writes often of slave names. Some of his comments include:

The black nationalist US Organization also advocates for African-Americans to change their slave names.[8]

See also


  1. Roman Nomenclature at
  2. Johnson, Harold Whetstone; Johnston, Mary; Names of Freedmen; 1903, 1932;
  3. "Louis Farrakhan Biography". Database. Retrieved 2011-10-20.
  4. "Muhammad Ali Biography". Database. Retrieved 2011-10-20.
  5. Deburg, William L. Van, "Modern Black Nationalism: From Marcus Garvey to Louis Farrakhan", NYU Press (1997), p 269, ISBN 0-8147-8789-4
  6. Muhammad, Elijah; Message to the Blackman; Chapter 24;
  7. Muhammad, Elijah; Message to the Blackman; Chapter 34;
  8. "NGUZO SABA (The Seven Principles)" From : US Organization website

External links

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