Saturday, May 4, 2013

Enslaved Names

I am currently conducting a survey of advertisements printed in Kentucky newspapers during the Civil War that have to do with slavery. There are ads for slave sales, ads for hiring slaves, ads for runaway slaves, ads for selling slave goods, and ads for caught runaways that were housed in local jails. Many of the ads, especially those for runaways and caught runaways, included the enslaved individuals' names, ages, height, weight, and physical description.

At present I am only partly into my survey, but I thought I'd share the names I have come across thus far. Missing are the exotic and classical slave names such as Cuffy, Cato, Pompey, and Caeser that litter antebellum novels and minstrel songs, instead, common names are those most often found. The most unique names I have located are Mingo, Prophet, Sights, and Dump.

Men and boys: Bill Taylor, Pallace, William, Lewis, John, Mingo, Abner, Sights, Jim, Burrill, Clay, George, Ira, Tom, Dump, Andrew, Henry, Aleck, Calvin, James Thornton, Allen, David Brooks, Bill, Isaac, Charles, Harrison, Nathan, Joe Burch, Jack, David, Bob, Thomas, Jeff, John Stratton, Jackson, Hamilton Baker, William Wood, John Jackson, Charles Allen, George, Luke, Hiram, Moses, Mark, Wiley, Burk Grimes, Ben Boyce, Sam, John White, Martin, Ambrose Roan, John Hines, Arthur, Jackson Marlow, Jo Owsley, William Hunter, Willis, Martin Davis, Granville, Prophet, Ben, Oscar, Stephen, Nace, Solomon, Frank, Fred, David, Taylor, Woodson, Fisher, Ellick, Phil, Joseph, Anderson, Bazzle, Cornelius, Bill Bachelor, James, Tim, Valentine, Edward McAfee, Dennis, Jesse, Edmond, Allen, Hardin, Wesley, Leonidas, Albert, Anthony, Jesse Cogar, Sam Emery, Andy Tate, Dow, Joe, Alford, Henry Tate, Andy Fincastle, Robert, Claiborne, Jack, Perry, Kenley Gray, John Davis, Nathan, Jesse, Charles Brown, Logan, Toby, Harvey, Jim Brown, Jim Monroe, Patrick Henry, Ambrose, Robin, Leander, Brace, Ned, Jordan, Grandison, Craig, Nelson, Washington, Owen, William Joshua, Dick, Joseph Bell, Jim Batts.

A number of names such as Henry, Jim, Tom, John, George, Stephen appeared multiple times and seem to be the most common.

Women and girls: Priscilla, Julia, Mary, Evaline, Eliza, Ellen Nora, Hannah, Amanda, Ann, Charlotte, Chaney, Kitty, Jane, Lucy, Mary Evans, Emily, Nancy, Betty, Luan, Fanny, Eliza Cole.

As one can see, women appear in these ads much less frequently than men. But females, too, had some names appear multiple times.  Mary, Ann, Jane, and Julia were the most common found so far.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.


  1. Hi, Tim--

    I read your blog faithfully. I've corresponded with you briefly before, as one of the projects I'm working on is a book about my great-great grandfather, James G. Crutcher, who was a Confederate soldier from Frankfort. The reason I wanted to comment today, is that I saw the name "Granville" listed above as a name for one of the slaves you've come across. I was wondering if you've come across that name a lot. It has appeared numerous times in my family as a given name. I'm curious if you've noticed that as well. I'd like to try to figure out where it came from and why there seems to have been such a high frequency for it in the south.

    Best wishes!

    --Brijit Reed

    1. Maybe there was a connection with Granville, Ohio, which was a center of abolitionism. ??

    2. Wow I looked this up because I had a school assignment and one of the characters had a black slave I picked out the name Mingo

  2. Brijit,
    Thanks for your continued readership.

    I'm sorry, I don't have a real good answer for you. Many families kept certain names going, but I can't really say that that particular name stands out in my research and reading in Southern history.

    Best of luck on your research.

  3. This email is for Mr. Tim Talbott. I noticed that on one of your blog posts that you listed a "Joseph Bell" as a runaway slave that was sought in either Kentucky or Tennessee. My great grandfather's (James William Bell 1865 / 1878 - 1954) father was supposedly a man named "Joseph Bell." I have been searching in earnest for two years attempting to find Joseph Bell, my great great grandfather and break through our brick wall of slavery. Thusly, do you, by chance, have ANY information on the "Joseph Bell" that you listed on your blog post?

    My great grandfather's death certificate states that he was born in Logan County, Kentucky, but there is some thought that his family (Joseph Bell) came from Tennessee. On official documents, my great grandfather typically wrote that he was from Indiana; usually Terre Haute or sometimes Spencer County, Indiana, but, on occasion, he wrote that he was from Kentucky.

    Thank you for ANY help that you can provide. I'd very much appreciate it. My email address is

  4. Mr. Bell - I hope you received my email concerning the advertisement you mention above.

  5. Thanks for sharing information on this very interesting topic and project. I to have noticed and admired the seemingly "exotic" names of enslaved Africans in Antebellum America. I myself have an ancestor named Cesar, and have long liked the name "Shields", which was the name of one of the former enslaved men who accompanied John Brown on his raid.
    I wonder if the trend you've noticed with the difference between the specifically vibrant names for enslaved characters in novels and the names for enslaved people mentioned in antebellum Kentucky newspapers, could be in part be a reflection of regional differences between the amount and kind of interaction between Blacks and Whites in the Deep South and the southern Appalachia Areas. Now obviously, this hypothesis assumes there is a systemic difference between the naming patterns of enslaved people in the two regions--which would have to be established, but my own casual reading of primary sources on Black people in the antebellum Deep South suggests colourful first names for Black people, particularly men, was pretty common (e.g. Neptune, Jupiter, Prince, etc...)
    As someone who has a fairly unique first name, I've for a long time been interested in the conventions that surround the naming of children. Having lived overseas and traveled quite a bit, I've observed a fairly consistent difference between most of the world's societies and Western/Anglo-derived societies: in most societies most children's names have a specific and literal meaning in the language that society uses on a normal basis--while in the West the norm is for names to not have a commonly known meaning. In West Africa, especially, names traditionally have almost always had very specific meanings that tell the hearer of a name about the social/ tribal/ clan position the bearer of the name holds and or the aspirations the parents hold for that child.
    I wonder if because plantations in the Deep South tended to be larger than farms in the Appalachians, and the overall number and proportion of African-descended people in Deep South states was larger, if some of the traditional west African naming conventions persisted in that region. And that since much of the traditional African names didn't survive (although some did, such as "Cudjoe" and "Cuffy", which possibly are derivatives of "Kojo" and "Kofi" which are extremely common west African names related to the day of the week that a child was born), the part of the original African naming convention that continued on was the aspirational aspect. Therefore Black people named their children with what were considered grandiose monikers by Euro-American standards, because the names reflected the hopes the parents had for the life and prospects of their progeny. On the flip side, possibly because interactions with White people was a greater proportion of the overall amount of daily interaction for enslaved people in Appalachia compared to their Deep South counterparts, they were both more deeply influenced by European naming conventions, possibly saw less social distance between themselves and Whites, and to the degree to which their children's names reflected the parents aspirations--the aspiration was to be seen and treated as much as possible as Euro-Americans. Obviously this is just a theory, but seems plausible to me. Seemingly the first question that would need to be addressed to begin determining the validity of this hypothesis would be to prove/ disprove the assumption that Black people normally named their own children, or if their enslavers regularly named their children.

    Thanks much for the interesting thought to noodle over.

  6. Abner was my gggg grandfather's name.

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  8. This is not the original names of the slaves. There names were changed from African names to European names for ease of pronunciation. Also, many of the slaves were of the Bantu group. European names would have been foreign to them as traditionally there is a method for naming.

    1. Not in most cases. The trans-Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in 1808, meaning from that point forward every slave in the US would have been born in the US. Even before 1808, the majority had been born into slavery rather than "imported."
      By the time of the Civil war, most of the people brought on slave ships from Africa would have been long dead. I would highly recommend the book "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave." It's a firsthand account of slavery authored by a man who was himself a slave. It's very eye-opening for one thing and also a treasure for anyone doing historical research. You can read a pdf version online for free if you search for it.

    2. I would lie to know the slaves names of all of general samuel mays brothers and sisters ad all Mays who had slaves Ames and their children

  9. This is interesting. I'm interested in the aspect of last names or family names. I have a Jamaican friend and have been staggered by just how many Jamaicans have the family name Beckford. Apparently Beckford was one of the largest slavers in Jamaica. Is there any study or research done on that phenomenon in the US?

  10. It’s funny because growing up and attending school me and my brown copper(black) peers could never pronounce white teachers last names. Most of the European white people have long last names. You can’t pronounce, so the teachers normally provided Nick names for their students. Also Europeans always preach out how they came to America poor or how they got kick out/ enslaved. And adapted and produced kids with the indigenous people to make themselves native to the land. Not only that there were some white(European) people coming from Africa to America and trying to move indigenous people to Africa… also modern day applying for jobs most blacks have easy names to pronounce which now is considered white names. Also European took over( Spanish speaking indigenous) last names. Modern today, all islands lands have been sold and taking away from indigenous people….

  11. Hi Tim, I'm wondering if you would be interested in sharing the survey, which hopefully contains the citations to the online copies of the newspaper articles. I work on genealogy for enslaved ancestors in Kentucky, and would (eventually) enter profiles for those who were mentioned in the ads. Very often it names the slave owner, which is a valuable resource for African American genealogy.