Slave name

Last updated

A slave name is the personal name given by others to an enslaved person, or a name inherited from enslaved ancestors.


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

African-American enslaved persons often chose the names of their former enslavers when they became freemen. Malcolm X wrote:

"The slave master who owned us put his last name on us to denote that we were his property. So when you see a negro today who’s named Johnson, if you go back in his history you will find that his grandfather, or one of his forefathers, was owned by a white man who was named Johnson. My father didn’t know his last name. My father got his last name from his grandfather, and his grandfather got it from his grandfather, who got it from the slave master. The real names of our people were destroyed during slavery." [3]

Former slaves were free to choose their own names after they became free. [4] Many chose names like 'Freeman' to denote their new status, while others picked names of famous people or people they admired, such as US Presidents like George Washington. [5] Other commonly chosen names were 'Johnson', 'Brown' and 'Williams', which had been popular before emancipation.

An individual's name change often coincides with a religious conversion (Muhammad Ali changed his name from Cassius Clay, Malcolm X from Malcolm Little, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar from Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr, and Louis Farrakhan changed his from Louis Eugene Walcott, for example) [6] [7] or involvement with the black nationalist movement, in this later case usually adopting names of African origin (e.g., Amiri Baraka and Assata Shakur). [8]

Some organizations encourage African Americans to abandon their slave names. The Nation of Islam is perhaps the best-known of them. In his 1965 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 and adopt African names. [11]

Other references

Irish singer Sinéad O'Connor stated in 2017 that she had changed her legal name to Magda Davitt, saying in an interview that she wished to be "free of the patriarchal slave names." [12] On her conversion to Islam in 2018, she adopted the Muslim name Shuhada' Sadaqat. [13]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Malcolm X</span> American Black rights activist (1925–1965)

Malcolm X was an American Muslim minister and human rights activist who was a prominent figure during the civil rights movement. A spokesman for the Nation of Islam (NOI) until 1964, he was a vocal advocate for Black empowerment and the promotion of Islam within the Black community. A posthumous autobiography, on which he collaborated with Alex Haley, was published in 1965.

The Nation of Islam (NOI) is a religious and political organization founded in the United States by Wallace Fard Muhammad in 1930. A black nationalist organization, the NOI focuses its attention on the African diaspora, especially on African Americans. While describing itself as Islamic, its religious tenets, while phrased in Islamic terminology, differ considerably from mainstream Islamic traditions. Scholars of religion characterize it as a new religious movement. It operates as a centralized and hierarchical organization.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Louis Farrakhan</span> American black nationalist religious leader (born 1933)

Louis Farrakhan is an American religious leader who heads the Nation of Islam (NOI), a black nationalist organization. Farrakhan is notable for his leadership of the 1995 Million Man March in Washington, D.C. and for his rhetoric that has been widely denounced as antisemitic and racist.

A number of organizations and academics consider the Nation of Islam (NOI) to be antisemitic. The NOI has engaged in Holocaust denial, and exaggerates the role of Jews in the African slave trade; mainstream historians, such as Saul S. Friedman, have said Jews had a negligible role. The NOI has repeatedly rejected charges made against it as false and politically motivated.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wallace Fard Muhammad</span> Founder of the Nation of Islam

Wallace Fard Muhammad, also known as Wallace D. Fard or Master Fard Muhammad, was the founder of the Nation of Islam. He arrived in Detroit in 1930 with an ambiguous background and several aliases, and proselytized idiosyncratic Islamic teachings to the city's black population. In 1934, he disappeared from public record, and Elijah Muhammad succeeded him as leader of the Nation of Islam.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Elijah Muhammad</span> African American religious leader (1897–1975)

Elijah Muhammad was an American religious leader, black separatist, and self-proclaimed Messenger of Allah who led the Nation of Islam (NOI) from 1933 until his death in 1975. Muhammad was also the teacher and mentor of Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, Muhammad Ali, and his son, Warith Deen Mohammed.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Warith Deen Mohammed</span> African-American Muslim leader (1933–2008)

Warith Deen Mohammed, also known as W. Deen Mohammed, Imam W. Deen Muhammad and Imam Warith Deen, was an African-American Muslim leader, theologian, philosopher, Muslim revivalist, and Islamic thinker.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Khalid Abdul Muhammad</span> American black nationalist leader (1948–2001)

Khalid Abdul Muhammad was an African-American Muslim minister and activist who became a prominent figure in the Nation of Islam and later the New Black Panther Party. After a racially inflammatory 1993 speech at Kean College, Muhammad was condemned and removed from his position in the Nation of Islam by Louis Farrakhan. He was also censured by both Houses of the United States Congress.

According to the beliefs of the Nation of Islam (NOI), Yakub was a black scientist who lived 6,600 years ago and began the creation of the white race. He is said to have done this through a form of selective breeding which is referred to as "grafting", while he was living on the island of Patmos. The Nation of Islam's mythology states that Yakub is the biblical Jacob.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fruit of Islam</span> Part of the Nation of Islam (NOI)

The Fruit of Islam (FOI) is the security and disciplinary wing of the Nation of Islam (NOI). It has also been described as its paramilitary wing. The Fruit of Islam wear distinctive blue, brown, or white uniforms and caps and have units at all NOI temples. Louis Farrakhan, as head of the Nation of Islam, is commander-in-chief of the Fruit of Islam, and his son, Mustapha Farrakhan Sr., is second in command as the Supreme Captain. The women's counterpart to the Fruit of Islam is Muslim Girls Training (MGT).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Saviours' Day</span> Holiday in Nation of Islam

Saviours' Day is a holiday of the Nation of Islam commemorating the birth of its founder, Master Wallace Fard Muhammad, officially stated to be February 26, 1877. It was established by Elijah Muhammad.

<i>Muhammad Speaks</i> Defunct American newspaper

Muhammad Speaks was a Black Muslim newspaper published in the United States. It was one of the most widely read newspapers ever produced by an African American organization. It was the official newspaper of the Nation of Islam from 1960 to 1975, founded by a group of Elijah Muhammad's ministers, including Malcolm X.

The Nation of Islam (NOI) is a black nationalist religious group founded in the United States by Wallace Fard Muhammad in 1930. While it identifies itself as promoting a form of Islam, its beliefs differ considerably from mainstream Islamic traditions. Scholars of religion characterize it as a new religious movement. It operates as a centralized and hierarchical organization. It has been characterized by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League as a black supremacist hate group.

Shabazz is the name of a supposed black architect whose tribe founded the populations of Africa according to the doctrine of the Nation of Islam (NOI). It is similar to the Persian name Shahbaz.

Hamaas Abdul Khaalis, born Ernest Timothy McGhee, was leader of the Hanafi Movement, a Black Muslim group based in Washington, D.C.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Masjid Malcolm Shabazz</span> Mosque located in Harlem, New York

Masjid Malcolm Shabazz, formerly known as Mosque No. 7, is a Sunni Muslim mosque in Harlem, New York City. It was formerly a Nation of Islam mosque at which Malcolm X preached, until he left it for Sunni Islam in 1964.

Tynnetta Muhammad was an American writer. In the 1960s, she wrote articles and columns for the Nation of Islam (NOI) newsletter Muhammad Speaks. She was one of Elijah Muhammad’s wives, and mother of four of his children.

African-American Muslims, also colloquially known as Black Muslims, are an African American religious minority. African American Muslims account for over 20% of American Muslims. They represent one of the larger minority Muslim populations of the United States as there is no ethnic group that makes up the majority of American Muslims. They are represented in Sunni and Shia denominations as well as smaller sects, such as the Nation of Islam. The history of African-American Muslims is related to African-American history in general, and goes back to the Revolutionary and Antebellum eras.

Muhammad Ali was initially raised as a Baptist before his high-profile conversion to Islam. In the early 1960s, he began attending Nation of Islam Meetings. There, he met Malcolm X, who encouraged his involvement and became a highly influential mentor to Ali. Ali, who was named Cassius Clay after his father, first changed his name briefly to Cassius X and then finally to Muhammad Ali in 1964.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Assassination of Malcolm X</span> 1965 murder in New York City, US

Malcolm X, an African American Muslim minister and human rights activist who was a popular figure during the civil rights movement, was shot multiple times and died from his wounds in Manhattan, New York City on February 21, 1965, at age 39. While preparing to address the Organization of Afro-American Unity at the Audubon Ballroom in the neighborhood of Washington Heights, Malcolm X was shot multiple times and killed. Three members of the Nation of Islam—Muhammad Abdul Aziz, Khalil Islam, and Thomas Hagan—were charged, tried, and convicted of the murder and given indeterminate life sentences, but in November 2021, Aziz and Islam were exonerated.


  1. Roman Nomenclature at
  2. Johnson, Harold Whetstone; Johnston, Mary; Names of Freedmen; 1903, 1932;
  3. "Hey, Black America, Let's All Ditch Our Slave Names". Medium. Retrieved June 2, 2022.
  4. Craven, Julia (2022-02-24). "Many African American last names hold weight of Black history". NBC News. Retrieved 19 September 2023.
  5. "Tracing Your Roots: Were Slaves' Surnames Like Brands?". The Root. Retrieved 19 September 2023.
  6. "Louis Farrakhan Biography". Database. Retrieved 2011-10-20.
  7. "Muhammad Ali Biography". Database. Retrieved 2011-10-20.
  8. Deburg, William L. Van, Modern Black Nationalism: From Marcus Garvey to Louis Farrakhan, NYU Press (1997), p. 269, ISBN   0-8147-8789-4
  9. Message to the Blackman; Muhammad, Elijah; Chapter 24;
  10. Muhammad, Elijah; Message to the Blackman; Chapter 34;
  11. "NGUZO SABA (The Seven Principles)" From : US Organization website
  12. "Sinead O'Connor's mother 'ran a torture chamber'". The Independent. 2017-09-12. Retrieved 2019-10-25.
  13. "Sinead O'Connor (Shuhada Sadaqat): 'I'm rebuilding life' | The Point Of Everything" . Retrieved 2019-10-25.