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A slave name is a name given to a person who is or has been enslaved or a name inherited from enslaved ancestors. Modern use of the term applies mostly to African-Americans and West Indians who are descended from slaves, and can be used in a derogatory manner.

Ancient Rome

In Roman slavery, slaves often had a single name, given at the discretion of their owner. A slave who was manumitted might keep his or her slave name and adopt his or her 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 gave the freedman a name of the owner's choosing.[2]

Cape Colony

In the Dutch colony in present day Cape Town, slaves were named after the months in which they were purchased. This resulted in surnames such as Januarie and Februarie.


Template:RoughTranslation-section In France, the heritage of slave name from the French and Europeans slave trade can be found in the West Indies (Roots), Haiti.
In the 15th century, the rivers of Guinea and Cape Verde islands were among the first in Africa explored by the Portuguese. In 1446, Portugal claimed Portuguese Guinea(what is today Guinea-Bissau), but few posts had been established before 1600. In 1630, the Portuguese were established and administered the territory. Cacheu had become one of the main centers of the (slave trade), which declined in the 19th century.

In 1600, Portuguese, and other European powers, including France, England, Sweden, Scotland, Spain, Brandenburg-Prussia, Denmark, Holland, set up a thriving slave trade along the West African coast.

In 1659, Saint-Louis was secured territory for the French and the whole of Senegal by the end of the 19th century.
Dakar was built as the administrative trade center when the whole Senegal was a French territory.

In 1765, Bissau was founded as a military center and slave trading and grew to become the main commercial center. The Portuguese used slave labour to grow cotton and indigo in the previously uninhabited Cape Verde islands. They traded goods and slaves, in the estuary of the Geba river and slaves captured in local African wars and raids were sold in Europe and then, from the 16th century in the Americas.

Captured slaves were all given a "slave name and in Europe like in France, many of them still bear the slave name, likely the Name Gomis is mainly associated with slavery in the history of the Guinea Bissau (and his Manjaco peoples). Bissau, a creole region, was the Slave Coast as the result of the arrival of Europeans in the 15th century. Before that period the slave trade, was not yet a significant feature of the coastal economy. The change occurs after the Portuguese reached this region in 1446. The identity of peoples from Casamance in their names are Gomis, Mendy, Preira, Correa, Dacosta, Monteiro, Vieira referring to France slaves heritage when Portugal lost part of Guinea to French West Africa, including the center of the highest Portuguese commercial interest, the Casamance River region.

In France, according to the diaspora and the slave name of descendants of the French slave trade, the name Gomis became a French decent name derived from the Portuguese lost of Casamance ( previously region of Guinea Portuguese, before becoming a French territory and then later a region of Senegal). The origin of the name Portuguese name like Gomis is derived from Gomes, likewise Mendy is derived from Mendes; Preira from Pereira etc. And as part of the French heritage in history of these names from Casamance, many Gomis are today French citizens living in France since the abolition of slavery. In West indies French territory, many names are memories of European or French names [1]

For a brief period in the 1790s the British attempt to establish a rival foothold on an offshore island, at Bolama. But many of the Manjaco and other entities became French after the abolition of the Slave trade in 1794, 1848. It was not until 1 January 1860 that the Netherlands abolished slavery. The West Indies and Dutch Guiana would have to wait until the 1 January 1863 for the abolition of slavery.
Freedom was restored and their slave name won back dignity and respect.

Today, slave name, baptised from birth or rebirth in the new world testifies to the authenticity of one's identity and own heritage of history.


Prior to the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, the vast majority of African-Americans in the United States were enslaved. During enslavement, slaves' names were assigned by their owners. Others received a name based on what kind of work they were forced to do. Some African-Americans have last names such as Cotton, reflecting when they were made to pick cotton as slaves.[citation needed]

After emancipation, many freedmen and -women took the surnames of their former owners as their own. Some blacks in the U.S. took on the surname Freeman, while others adopted the names of popular historical or contemporary figures of social importance, such as former presidents Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson.

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 and Louis Farrakhan, for example) or involvement with the black nationalist movement (e.g., Amiri Baraka and Assata Shakur).[citation needed]

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:

  • "You must remember that slave-names will keep you a slave in the eyes of the civilized world today. You have seen, and recently, that Africa and Asia will not honor you or give you any respect as long as you are called by the white man’s name."[3]
  • "You are still called by your slave-masters' names. By rights, by international rights, you belong to the white man of America. He knows that. You have never gotten out of the shackles of slavery. You are still in them."[4]

Other organizations, such as the Black Nationalist US Organization, also advocate for African-Americans to change their "slave names."[citation needed]

Kingdom of the Netherlands

The caribbean islands belonging to the Dutch kingdom (like Aruba and the Dutch Antilles) or former colonies, such as the Surinam have a large Creole population consisting mostly of the descendants of slaves.

When freed in the course of the 19th century, the ancestors of these people received surnames which were given by their former owners; many of which referred to a specific character trait. For example Aruban governor Frits Goedgedrag's name is Dutch for "good behavior" whereas football player Edson Braafheid's name means "obedient".

Many people kept these names, while others later chose their own name. These names were often in the local Spanish-based creole language, and subsequently changed to 'proper' Spanish by Dutch officials, which explains why many Arubans and some Surinamese have Spanish surnames, but no Spanish ancestry.


External links

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