Hennig Cohen on S.C. Slave Names*

Hennig Cohen, formerly of the University of Pennsylvania, referred to a “dual naming system among slaves in the eighteenth century” (103). Enslaved persons might have an English name but also have a nickname (“country name”) that might be African or African-influenced. Hennig’s study was based on names found in the South Carolina Gazette, and he gave reference to runaway ads as well. Hennig discerned “patterns in the nomenclature of slaves” (102).

This study affirmed the use of day and month names and identified common lists of African names taken from various sources. The most common among these were Juba and Cuffee (Monday and Friday). A number of names began with Qua as in Quash, Quaco, or Quamina. (I find two persons named Quash in the 1862 Otter Island Register, one in a Beaufort register, and a Squash in a Hilton Head register).

Hennig mentioned surnames in relation to runaway ads, commenting that use of them was rare; however, a runaway might have adopted a surname in order to give an idea that he or she was free. (Hennig writes, however, that free persons themselves did not necessarily use a surname.) Use of surnames in the registers is an interesting aspect of enslaved persons’ transition to freedom. In a later post, I will look at the level at which African Americans adopted the names of their identified former masters vs. adoption of other names.

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