Thursday, June 12, 2014

Slave Naming Patterns: Onomastics and the Taxonomy of Race in Eighteenth-Century Jamaica

Project MUSE - Slave Naming Patterns: Onomastics and the Taxonomy of Race in Eighteenth-Century Jamaica

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:
Journal of Interdisciplinary History 31.3 (2001) 325-346
Every year, slave owners responsible for managing estates were required by Jamaican law to submit to the local vestry an account of the whites, slaves, and livestock on their properties. Whites were listed by first name and surname; slaves were denoted by first name, sometimes accompanied by a modifier referring to age, occupation, or ethnicity; and stock were merely enumerated. Thus, on July 3, 1782, Thomas Thistlewood, penkeeper and proprietor of Breadnut Island Pen, rode to Savanna La Mar and handed to his fellow vestrymen the names of his thirty-two slaves. The list began with the first slave that he owned -- an Ibo slave called Lincoln -- and ended with his most recent addition -- Nancy, the one-year-old daughter of Phoebe, a Coromantee slave purchased in 1765. He also noted that he owned thirty unnamed head of cattle.
Such compilations were common. The names of thousands of slaves survive, most often noted in the inventories of deceased white Jamaicans. This article explores the names of slaves as recorded in white-generated sources and speculates about their derivations. An analysis of naming patterns can help to determine the extent to which African cultural practices were retained or transformed in the movement of Africans to Jamaica, and an explication of the rules governing the distribution of names shows how whites, slaves, and animals were differentiated in early Jamaica. In particular, the names given to blacks indicate that white Jamaicans thought Africans (whom they invariably denoted as "negroes" rather than slaves) to be people entirely different from themselves. This argument runs counter to recent scholarship that interprets slave-naming patterns as signs of continuing African cultural practices in the New World. Despite the undeniable arrival of African cultural practices in the New World, the evidence suggests that slave owners, rather than slaves, were the originators of slave names. Hence, slave names are more a guide to what whites thought of blacks than an entrée into slave consciousness.
That slaves were seldom allowed even the right to name themselves and their progeny says much about Africans' inferior position in a society indelibly shaped by European racist condescension. Slaves recognized the humiliation implicit in the names that they were given. When freedom afforded them the opportunity to name themselves, slave names became almost entirely extinct. Yet, at the same time that blacks rejected their slave heritage, they also rejected their African heritage in order to mimic, incompletely, the European oppressors that they, ironically, aspired to become.
The taxonomic differences between the naming practices that Europeans reserved for themselves and those that they forced on their slaves were both considerable and onomastically significant. Whites always had at least one forename, invariably of standard English derivation, and a surname, and their names were remarkably unoriginal. Unlike Puritans in New England, who "participated in an onomastic revolution," discarding traditional English forenames for Old Testament biblical names, white Jamaicans stuck closely to old English ways. The European migrants to early Jamaica -- more than two-thirds of whom hailed from metropolitan England -- saw little reason to discard English habits in the tropics. Like settlers in early Virginia, whom they resembled culturally, they selected the names of their children from a very small pool. Twenty-five names accounted for 87.2 percent of 1,227 boys baptized between 1722 and 1758 in Kingston Parish; 48.2 percent of males were called John, William, Thomas, or James. Of 1,130 girls baptized during the same period, 57.8 percent were called Mary, Elizabeth, Ann, or Sarah. The most popular twenty-five names accounted for 89.5 percent of all female names.
English naming traditions portray children less as unique individuals than as part of an ongoing family and lineage. Names were so few that most people shared them extensively within their communities and families. White Jamaican parents preferred names already current in their families, tending to name children after grandparents in the first instance, and then after themselves. Parents also allowed for necronymic naming -- the naming of children after a previously deceased sibling. The only major innovation during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was an increased tendency after the mid...