There Was No "Absalom" on the Ball Plantations: Slave-Naming Practices in the South Carolina Low Country, 1720-1865

by Cheryll Ann Cody
There Was No "Absalom" on the Ball Plantations: Slave-Naming Practices in the South Carolina Low Country, 1720-1865
Cheryll Ann Cody
The American Historical Review
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There Was No "Absalom" on the Ball Plantations:
Slave-Naming Practices in the South Carolina
Low Country, 1720-1865


FORHISTORIANS OF THE BLACK EXPERIENCE UNDER SLAVERY, the process by which Africans became Afro-Americans presents an intriguing set of questions. Many students of this transition have turned to some version of an "encounter model," to borrow the term anthropologists use, to identify and weigh the relative contributions of African and white American cultures to black societies of the New World.' Historians have long recognized that white "American" culture did not entirely subsume African culture, a fact made evident by the retention of African influences in black music, dance, language and speech patterns.2 Afro-American slaves nevertheless came to share many values and beliefs with their owners. includirlg Christianity.3 An examination of the naming of slaves offers one way of

Earlier versions of this article were presented to faculty colloquiums at the University of New Mexico

and the University of California. Berkeley. I wish to thank Kermit Hall, Howard Rabinowitz, Darrett

Rutman. Daniel Scott Smith, Edward Tebbenhoff, George Terry, Eldon Turner, and Bertram

Wyatt-Brown for their helpful comments. Figures were drawn by Mark Scialo of the Office of

Instructional Resources, University of Florida.

' Sidney W.Mintz and Richard Price, "An Anthropological Approach to the Afro-American Past: '4 Caribbean Perspective," Institution for the Study of Human Issues, Occasior~al Papers in Social Change, 2 (Philadelphia, Pa., 1976), 4-1 1; Melville Herskovits, The~Mythof theNegro Past (Boston, 1958): George

M. Foster, "Peasant Society and the Image of Limited Good," Anmican Anthropologut, 67 (1965): 293-315; Robert Redfield, The Primitive World and Transformation (Ithaca, N.Y., 1953), 51-58. Mintz and Price suggested that a simple encounter model positing a cultural unity of West Africa whose elements could be transferred or modified in the New World must be rejected as a useful approach to the problem. They maintained that scholars may be better served by focusing more on values and attitudes that define social relations-the underlying principles that govern family, kinship, and communal activities-as the source of cultural unity in \Vest Africa and cultural continuity with an African past.

SeeJohn Blassingame, The Slave Comnzunity: Plar~tatzon Lye in the Antebellum South (New York, 1972), 1-40; Peter Wood, Black Majority: 'Vegroes in Colonial South Carolinafrom 1670 through the Stono Rebellion (New York, 1974), 167-91; Charles Joyner, Down by the Riverside: A South Carolina Slave Community (Urbana, Ill., 1984), 19G224; and Lynne Emery, Black Dance in the Unitedstates from 1619 to 1970 (Palo Alto, Calif., 1972). Lawrence Levine, Black Culture and Black Co~ciourness: ilfro-American Folk Tllought

from Slavery to Freedom (New York, 1977), 3-5,60-61, addressed the issue of Afro-American cultural

transformation directly by suggesting that, regardless of' its origins, slave music was a "distinctive

cultural form" that contained not so much African survivals as transformations. Eugene Genovese, Roll,

Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves iZ.fade (New York, 1972, 1974). 309-13, 318-19. 322-24. Herbert Gutman, The Black Family in Slazleq and Freedom, 1750-1 925 (New York, 1976), 194-201. Gutmarl most nearly followed Mintz and Price's agenda by searching for the hidden structures that governed slave family life.

%ee Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman, Time on the Cross: TheEconomics ofAmerican h'egro Slave?,


Cheryll Ann Cody

viewing the cultural transformation in the early generations of black slavery and focuses on a stage of the process that scholars have often neglected.

This examination of the names and naming practices of slaves considers the subject from three perspectives. First, plantation records reveal the size, content, and continuity of the pool of names that slaves used. As parents selected names for their children, they may have reflected religious convictions, cultural ante- cedents, or contemporary heroes and events. Shifts in naming practices may indicate changes in the values and world view of the slaves. Second, the rules a society uses in the selection and transmission of family names indicate the value that the parent or the individual selecting the name attached to the preservation of ties to the namesake. As Daniel Scott Smith observed, "The desire to recognize familial continuity spans a range of intensities and a variety of naming practices in different societies."4 Some cultures express continuity by linking the child to the grandparent or extended kin, others by linking the child to the parent. With slaves, the study of naming practices includes a third dimension that speaks directly to the issue of acculturation: the extent to which the names used by slaves represented an agenda of names and naming patterns determined by owners or, more broadly, by white American practices, as well as the extent to which the names reflected African naming systems retained or transformed by life under the institution of slavery.5

This study draws on the records of the slave populations on the Ball family rice plantations, located on the Cooper River in St. John's Berkeley Parish, South Carolina. Between 1698 and 1865, the Ball family owned at various times nine rice plantations in the Low Country that are partially or fully documented. Comingtee, the home plantation, was inherited in 1698 and remained in the Ball family until 1896. Stoke, a quarter of Comingtee, was a separate unit between 1805 and 1840.

2 vols. (Boston, 1974), 1: 126-57. Fogel and Engerman found acceptance by Afro-Americans of both a Protestant work ethic and a system of kin organization that emphasized the nuclear family. See also Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll, 162-63,283. Genovese argued that the religion of slaves manifested many African traits and exhibited a continuity with African ideas; it also produced a sense of self-worth in a belief system that was shared with the slaveowners.

* Daniel Scott Smith, "Child-Naming Practices, Kinship Ties, and Change in Family Attitudes in Hingham, Massachusetts, 1641 to 1880," Journal of Social Histo?, 18 (1985): 548. The Hingham

o ulation is white.

'Studies of dare-naming practices include Newbell Niles Puckett, "Names of American Negro Slaves," Studies in the Science of Society, George Murdock, ed. (New Haven, Conn., 1937): 471-94; Stephen Gudeman, "Herbert Gutman's The Black Family zn Slavny and Freedom, 1750-1925," Social Science his to^, 2 (1979): 56-65; Mary Beth Norton, Liberty's Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800 (Boston, 1980), 85-87; Darrett Rutman and Anita Rutman, A Place in Time: Expbcatut (New York, 1985), 97-103; Allan Kulikoff. Tobacco and Slaves: The Development of Southern Cultures in the Chesapeake, 1680-1800 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1986), 325-26. Four studies of slave names have focused on the Carolinas: Wood, Black Majoritj, 181-86; Joyner, Down by the Riverside, 217-22; Orville Vernon Burton, In My Father's Hour Are Many Manszom: Fawzily and Community in Edgefield, South Carolina (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1985), 165-66; and John C. Inscoe, "Carolina Slave Names: An Index to Acculturation," Journal of Southern History, 49 (1983): 527-54. Both Wood and Joyner are particularly interested in the use of African "day-names" in eighteenth and nineteenth-century South Carolina. Inscoe uses names to date a transition to biblical names among Carolina slaves in the early nineteenth century. Gutman's work and my own have focused on the use of family names by slaves. See Gutman, The Black Famzly, 185-201; and Cheryll Ann Cody, "Naming, Kinship and Estate Dispersal: Notes on Slave Family Life on a South Carolina Plantation, 1786 to 1833," Wilbam and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 39 (1982): 192-21 1.

Kensington and Hyde Park were built in the 1740s and remained in the family until 1842. Limerick was purchased in 1764 and retained until 1891. Jericho (or Back River) was in the family from 1774 through 1842, Quinby from 18 17 to 1842, and Cedar Hill and Halidon Hill were acquired in 1837 and 1842, respectively. The history of the plantations' settlement and the growth of their populations is detailed elsewhere, but several critical features need to be noted for the analysis that follows.6 The birth and death registers of the Ball plantations span the years 1720 to 1865. Although extremely rich in some ways, these registers do not regularly record the name of a child's father. In some cases, this information can be gleaned from other sources, but a full genealogical reconstruction of the slave populations cannot be accomplished. The Ball records are nonetheless among the best documentation available of the earliest generations of American-born slaves.

The Ball family's slave population was subjected to few of the disruptions that came to other slaves through sales and the transmission of property from generation to generation. Before 1770, the Balls purchased slaves to increase the population. After 1770, additions other than by births came from a marriage gift in 1774, the purchase of a Tory cousin's slaves in 1784, and the inheritance of 140 slaves in 1812. In each instance, the source of the slaves was another member of the Ball family. A major disruption of the slave population came with the auction of 366 slaves from the estate of John Ball, Sr., in 1819. His sons purchased 126 of the slaves, as John Ball, Jr., noted, "because they were related by connection with those that were owned by me before the sale."' After 1840, the slaves at three plantations were no longer included in the surviving registers. As a result, a portion of the population disappears from this reconstruction. During the nineteenth century, the evidence becomes fuller with a column added to the register in which the date of death was recorded. Only for the last fifteen years, 1849 to 1865, and for one plantation, Comingtee, were the fathers of children regularly recorded. Beginning with these registers, 620 maternal histories were reconstituted. These

"ee my unpublished dissertation, "Slave Demography and Family Formation: A Community Study of the Ball Family Plantations, 1720-1896" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Minnesota, 1982), for details of the years of documentation for each site. On the impact of the 18 19 sale of John Ball's slaves, see Cheryll Ann Cody, " 'Painful Though It Might Be': Inheritance Practices and Slave Families on the Ball Plantations," Working Papers of the Social History Workshop, 86-3, Department of History, University of Minnesota; and Cody, "Slave Demography and Family Formation," 323-57.

More than 600 maternal slave histories were reconstituted from plantation records of the Balls housed in several archives, including Plantation Journal 1720-1782; and Blanket and Cloth Book 1833 to 1844, both in Miscellaneous Papers, Private Collection of Mr. Elias Ball (now at the South Carolina Historical Society). John and Keating S. Ball Plantation Books, vols. 1-10; and William J. Ball Plantation Books, vols. 1-2, both in Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Blanket Book and Register of Isaac Ball for Midway, Limerick, Jericho, Quinby and Hyde Park (ca. 1804-1821); and Clothing and Blanket Book of John Ball's Slaves, 1830-1833, both in Ball Family Papers, South Carolina Historical Society, Columbia. Keating S. Ball, Comingtee Plantation Book, 1849-1896, Ball Family Papers, 1696-1800, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia. Keating S. Ball Plantation Book, 1860-1867, Ball Family Papers, 1792-1834, William Perkins Library, Duke University, Durham, N.C. Record series include: Wills; and Inventories, Charleston District; South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia. The first register runs from 1720 to 173.5 and lists the names of slaves born at Comingtee and slaves purchased by Elias Ball during each year. The second register spans 1735 to 1785 and for each child lists the date of birth. child's name, and mother's name, noting occasionally the death of the child. A third register, which overlaps the second, includes births from 1735 to 1817 with similar information.

Cheryll Ann Cody

Leading Names for Ball Family Children

Rank Name N Percent Cumulative Percent
Sons (N = 76)        
1st John 21 27.6 27.6
2d Elias 10 13.2 40.8
Sd William 9 11.8 52.6
4th Isaac 6 7.9 60.5
Daughters (N = 76)        
1st Elizabeth-Eliza 11 14.5 14.5
2d Anne 8 10.5 25.0
3d 3d Eleanor Lydia 7- 9.2 9.2 34.2 43.2
5th Martha 5 6.6 49.8
5th Mary 5 6.6 56.4

histories were supplemented by distribution lists, estate inventories, division lists, and other documents that systematically enumerated populations in an attempt to locate evidence on the fathers of children. If a woman was linked in these documents with the same man over the period of her childbearing years without breaks in either her history of births or her linkage to the man, it was assumed that he fathered her children. Though somewhat unorthodox, this method takes advantage of the owner's practice in recording slave names by modifying the names of women with the names of their husbands. By this method, I identified the husbands of 194 women or about one-third of the families.

The analysis of slave names uses four sets of the Ball slave reconstitution. One set includes the names of 2,344 slaves born on the plantations who lived long enough to receive a name in the birth register. This set is used in the analysis of the content and continuity of the name pool itself. 'I'he second set uses only maternal histories with full death registration and includes only families begun after 1800 and completed in 1865. This subset of families is used in the analysis of patterns of necronymic naming. The third set uses only families in which the name of the father or fathers of all children are known arid includes a total of 194 families. '4 final subset of this third set includes only families in which all four grandparents are known. The last two data sets are used in the analysis of kin-naming patterns among slaves.

TOASSESS THE IMPACT OF OWNER NAMES AND NAMING SYSTEMS on slaves, I turn first to the naming practices of the Ball family.8 Members of the Ball family chose the

See John and Keating S. Ball Plantation Books, vol. 5, Southern Historical Collection. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Anne Simons Deas, Recollectio7~~of fht Ball Family ($'South Carolina and fhe Comingtee Plantation (Charleston, S.C., 1978).

names for their own sons and daughters from a small group of family names. More than 60 percent of the sons received one of four names: John, William, Elias, or Isaac. John and William were common English names and popular among white American populations in both the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.9 Both Elias and Isaac were first names that were somewhat unusual for white populations of the Low Country, but each name held significance in the family history of the Balls. Elias I was the first member of the Ball family to immigrate to South Carolina in the late 1690s. He was the most commonly shared ancestor and the source of the family's wealth, and thus his name was important in a society that emphasized both kinship and property. Isaac, whose death at age twenty-one made him both a tragic and romantic figure in the family history, was also a popular namesake for Ball children, tapping a budding strain of sentimentalism in the planter family.10

Although not as restricted as the pool of male names, the group of common names for daughters was small. Six names, Elizabeth, Anne, Eleanor, Lydia, Martha, and Mary, accounted for 56 percent of the names selected for Ball daughters. Elizabeth, Anne, and Mary were among the leading English names for women and also were dominant in eighteenth and nineteenth-century American populations.11 Lydia and Eleanor were perpetuated both as kin names and as namesakes because of the attributes of the first American-born ancestors to bear the names. Lydia Child Chicken's marriage to Elias I1 came after years of unrequited love, and she was thus a romantic figure in the family's history.12 Eleanor Ball was the best-known individual in the family lineage, male or female. She was the recipient of a necronymic name, that is, she shared the name of her half-sister, who had died at age sixteen, seven years before Eleanor's birth. The only child of her father's second marriage to survive to adulthood, Eleanor married Colonel Henry Laurens. Her marriage not only linked the family to power and wealth, it also produced four children of prominence: John Laurens, a hero of the Revolutionary War; Henry 11, a wealthy planter and politician; Martha, the wife of Dr. David Ramsey, the first historian of the state; and Mary Eleanor, the wife of Governor Charles Pinckney. By choosing Eleanor as the namesake for their daughters, the Balls perpetuated a family name and at the same time linked the family to the powerful political past of the Laurens, Ramseys, and Pinckneys.

The Balls relied heavily on family names, especially those of the paternal lineage, in selecting both first and middle names. By the nineteenth century, middle names had come into common use, increasing the ability of parents to perpetuate family names. Since 1714, the Balls had used the middle name Coming for sons named John to make clear that the child shared the name of John Coming, from whom the Balls originally inherited their land in South Carolina, as well as to continue the surname of the first owner of Comingtee, albeit transposed as a middle name. The first of the Balls to use middle names consistently were John Ball and his

Smith, "Child-Naming Practices," 565; Rutman and Rutman, A Place in Time: Explicatw, 86. lo Deas, Recollections of Comingtee, 72-77. I' Smith, "Child-Naming Practices," 566; and Rutman and Rutman, A Place in Time: Explicatw, 87,


l2 Deas, Recollections of Comingtce, 66-69.



Percentage of Ball Family Children Sharing a Kin Name by Gender, Family Size, and Kin Connection

1-2 3 or more   All   1-2 3 or more   A11
N Percent N Percent N Percent N Percent N Percent N Percent

Father 8 75.0 14 100.0 22 90.9 Mother 13 53.8 12 91.7 25 72.0 Paternal Paternal Grandfather Grandmother

(FAFA) 8 37.5 14 78.6 22 63.3 (FAMO) 13 23.1 12 66.7 25 44.0 Materrla1 Maternal Grandfather Grandrnothc~

(MOFA) 8 12.5 14 57.1 22 40.9 (MOM()) 13 30.8 12 75.0 25 52.0

Percent of Fznt and Sptond Som Shamng Narrw of Fzrd ant1 Second Ilclughter\ Simmrg Nam~Pprc(>r~/

Neither Parent Neither Parent nor nor N Father FAFA Both MOFA Grandparent N Mother MOM0 Both FAMO Grandparent

1st Son 22 68.2 27.3 (13.6) 4.5 13.6 1st Daughter 25 4,4.0 32.0 (8.0) 28.0 0 2d Son 19 36.8 26.3 { 5.3) 5.3 36.9 2d Daughter 22 22.7 18.2 { 0 13.6 45.5

second wife, Martha Carolina Swinton Ball. Whereas only one of the five children of John's first union, with his cousin, received a middle name, John and Martha gave ten of their eleven children middle names. The middle names selected fell into three categories: traditional first names, family surnames, and Latin names for numerals, such as Septimus. John and Martha gave five of their daughters middle names that were traditional first names, including the first set of twins, Carolina Olivia and Martha Angelina, each of whom shared one of their mother's names.13

One indication of the preference for paternal kin names is the frequency with which sons received the names of their fathers. Six of the eight families with one or two sons passed on the father's name to the next generation. ,411 fourteen families with three or more sons named a son for his father. Members of the Ball family frequently used the paternal grandfather's name. In families with only one or two sons, three of eight named a child for his paternal grandfather. Among large families, the use of the paternal grandfather as a namesake was more prevalent, with 78.6 percent including a son who shared the name of his father's father. Maternal grandfathers rarely saw their name used for a child in families with one or two sons, but, again among larger families, more than half named a male child for his maternal grandfather. Considered together, nine out of ten families transmitted the name of the father to the next generation. About six of ten named a son for a paternal grandfather and four in ten for the maternal grandfather. Thus, in naming sons, the Balls relied on kin names with great frequency and preferred the immediate connection of father to son.

Because parents could not anticipate the number of children of each gender they would produce, the order in which they used kin names reveals not only the intensity of kin naming but also the priorities held. In selecting the names of first sons, members of the Ball family turned to the names of the fathers in more than two-thirds (68.2 percent) of the families. First-born sons who did not receive the names of their fathers (27.3 percent) often received the names of their paternal grandfathers but only rarely those of maternal grandparents (4.5 percent). Even though parental and grandparental names were chosen less frequently for second sons, families that had failed to name a first son for his father used the opportunity of the birth of a second boy to perpetuate the father's name. Again, the families seldom turned to the maternal grandfather as the source of a second son's name.

Kin naming was not practiced as intensely for daughters as it was for sons. Slightly more than half (53.8 percent) of families with one or two daughters named a child for her mother. Among larger families, however, more than nine in ten used the mother's name. The maternal grandmother and the paternal grand- mother served as namesakes with nearly equal frequency. Among families with

'"The use of middle names also brought a new dimension to necronymic naming. Among the children of John Ball, Sr., and hlartha Carolina S~vinton, Angelina Matilda received the middle name of her recently deceased sister as her first name, and Edward Urilliam shared the two names of his deceased half-brothers. Other children were given surnames as their middle names, including Coming, Swinton, and Splatt. The use of Latin names also increased the opportunities for necrony-mic naming. One son, who shared the first name of his deceased half-brother. was called Elias Octavius.

Cheryl1Ann Cody

only one or two daughters, 30.8 percent named one girl for her maternal grandmother, while 23.1 percent named a girl for her paternal grandmother. In families with three or more daughters, nine of twelve perpetuated the maternal grandmother's name and eight of twelve the name of the paternal grandmother.

A study of the naming priorities for first and second daughters reveals a Ball family preference for replication of the nanie of the mother over that of either grandmother, but the pattern of parental namingoverall is weaker than that found for sons. All first-born daughters who shared the name of their mother or a grandmother did so in the following order of frequency: mother, maternal grandmother, and paternal grandmother. The small number of cases, the number of shared names, and the relatively slight differences detected suggest, however, that no clear-cut pattern of preference between parental or grandparental or between maternal and paternal lineage can be discerned. Furthermore, while all first-born daughters received a kin name, nearly half of the second-born daughters were given a name other than that of their mother or grandmother.

In selecting names for their children, the Balls valued perpetuation of the kin name above preservation of the individual identity of a child. One indication of this attitude is the frequency of necronymic sibling naming. David Scott Smith noted a trend away from the use of sibling necronyms by the nineteenth century among the Hingham population." The Balls, however, continued to reuse the name of a dead child, taking advantage of six of twenty-six opportunities for replacement (23.1 percent) presented by the birth of a child of the same gender.

The intensity of kin naming among the Ball family and the emphasis placed on perpetuating the paternal lineage can be seen in the names chosen for the children of William James Ball. In 1842, William James married Julia Cart, and, over the next eight years, the union produced five sons. The first four boys received the four family names used most frequently for male children and in order of kin relationship. The first son was named for his father. William James; the second for his paternal grandfather, Isaac; the third for his paternal great-grandfather, John; and the fourth for his paternal great-great-grandfather. In addition to directly replicating the paternal line, these four boys also shared the names of other paternal kin. Julia's father was John Cart; thus, the maternal grandfather also received a namesake among the Ball children. Because no daughter was born to William James and Julia, there was no opportunity to perpetuate Julia's name or the names of the grandmothers.

A second marriage allowed William James to broaden the scope of his use of kin names. Four years after Julia's death, he married his first cousin, Mary Huger Gibbs. This union produced one son and six daughters. The son shared the name of his maternal grandfather. The Balls were able to use the maternal grandfather's

l4 Smith has altered his interpretation of the nineteenth-century decline in the practice of necronymic naming. He originally equated the practice with a parental failure to recognize the child as a unique being; Daniel Scott Smith, "Child Naming Patterns and Family Structure Change: Hingham, Massachusetts, 1640-1880,"Newberry Papers in Family Community History, 765(January 1977), 6. Smith later argued that, as death became romanticized, the intensity of grieving increased, and the connection between child and name more binding, families felt it was no longer appropriate to reuse a name. Smith, "Child-Naming Practices," 54W7.

TABLE 3 Children of William James Ball

Gender-Rank Gender Rank Name Relationship Status

wife Julia Cart (married 1842)

1st Son 1st William James Father living
2d Son 2d Isaac Paternal Grandfather dead
        Paternal Uncle dead
3d Son 3d John Paternal Great-Grandfather dead
        Paternal Uncle living
4th Son 4th Elias Paternal Great-Great- dead
        Grandfather (FAFAFAFA)  
        Paternal Great-Uncle dead
5th Son 5th Francis Guerrin Paternal Cousin unknown
wife Mary Huger Gi   bbs (married 1862)    
6th Daughter 1st Eliza Catherine Paternal Grandmother living
        Paternal Aunt dead
7th Daughter 2d Maria Louisa Maternal Grandmother unknown
8th Daughter 3d Jane Paternal Great- dead
        Grandmother (FAFAMO)  
9th Son 6th Mathurin Guerrin Maternal Grandfather unknown
10th Daughter 4th Mary Mother living
1 lth Daughter 5th Lydia Child Paternal (distant) -
12th Daughter 6th Eleanor Paternal (distant) -

name for their first-born son because William James had completed his naming agenda for his male ancestry during his first marriage. The paternal line dominated the names selected for the six daughters. The first daughter shared the name of her paternal grandmother. The maternal line was not represented among William James's children until the seventh child (the second daughter, Maria Louisa, named for her maternal grandmother). The third daughter, Jane, shared the name of her paternal great-grandmother, the fourth was named for her mother, and the fifth was Lydia Child, the infant's paternal great-greatgrandmother. The sixth daughter received the name Eleanor, from a kin relationship even more distant.

THEMOTIVATION OF SLAVEOWNERS IN THE SELECTION OF NAMES for their own children seems fairly simple-the perpetuation of kin names, particularly, paternal kin-but the names chosen for slave children stem from a far more complex set of influences and values, some held by owners and others by slaves. For their part, owners needed to identify each slave by a single given name to

Cheryl1 Ann Cody

simplify the allocation of tasks and provisions. If this need had totally governed the selection of names for slave children, it would have meant that no slave would have shared a first name with another slave on the same plantation, and no child would have shared the name of a parent, a living grandparent, or a cousin. On large plantations, this rule would require a broad pool of names, equal to the total population.

The desire to identify slaves uniquely accounted for the variety of names and the diversity of sources that the Balls used when they purchased slaves or named the first generation born in South Carolina.15 It conflicted with any desire slaves may have had to use family names for their children. Even so, the first generation of South Carolina-born slaves on the Ball plantations seems to have asserted its influence by using kin names for its children.16 Indeed, the slaves made use of family names not only between the generations but among extended kin of the same generation as well, thus quickly undermining an effort to create a unique identity for each slave. When slaves on the same plantation shared the same first name, some form of modification was added to one or both names to distinguish between the two individuals. Name duplication was a common but easily resolved problem when a father and son, or grandfather and grandson, shared a name. They would be identified, for instance, as "Big Pompey" and "Little Pompey." Other modifiers could be equally descriptive, including color, place of birth (either Africa or another plantation), or occupation. A comparison of the use of name modifiers can be made between a list from 1755 to 1758 of slaves receiving blankets at Comingtee and a blanket list from 1835 to 1837 at the same site. Although few slaves on the eighteenth-century list shared a name, Comingtee plantation recorded "Ebo Sylvia" and "Ebo Dy." Surnames were applied to three slaves, Jenny Buller, Tom White, and Hannah Shubrick. Age was used to differentiate six slaves. By the nineteenth century, modifiers were more frequently applied and, in more than half of the instances, were given to slaves who did not share the first name of another slave. Nearly two-thirds (63.7 percent) of the adult male slaves had some form of modifier applied to their names, with occupation and kinship accounting about equally for the type of modification. Seven out of ten female adults had their

l5 The number of plantations, size of slave populations, and regular absenteeism of the owners all make it unlikely that the Balls continued to select the names of slave children after the first generation born in South Carolina. For example, the inventory of the estate of John Ball, Sr., in 1817 lists 669 slaves at nine plantations and in Charleston. In Burton's recent study of Edgefield County, South Carolina, he avoided taking a position on whether slaves or owners named slave children; Burton, In My Father's House, 166.Only one of twenty-four entries of births to slave mothers in Thomas Chaplin's diary of Tombee plantation notes that Chaplin named the slave infant. Theodore Rosengarten, Tombee: A Portrait of a Cotton Planter; with theJournal of Thomar B. Chaplin (1820-1890) (New York, 1986), 330, 358, 364, 496, 501, 504, 533, 536, 589, 612, 633, 635, 640, 669, 674, 695, 711-12.

l6 There is some evidence to suggest that the selection of a child's name did not rest solely with slave parents. Joyner argues that some slaves were named by their grandparents, a continuation of an African practice; Down by the Riverside, 220-21. A notation made by Keating S. Ball in 1876 lends support to the view that the selection and ritual recording of a child's name may have included a broader kin, in this instance the child's maternal grandmother. He recorded, "Mother Judy Johnson formerly of this place now at Hagan St. Thomas; Nov 22; male; Ben entered at the request of Dorcus Pinckney the grandmother"; Keating S. Ball, Comingtee Plantation Book, 1849-1896.

names modified as well. Kinship was most often the form of modification, with the name of the woman's husband or her mother chosen with about equal frequency.

In a society in which one's history and position were transmitted orally, the selection of the name of a child may have held more significance than in a society with a written history. The selection of an African "day-name," for example, would give a child a name used solely by blacks in the community and would serve also as a reminder of an African past. Sharing a kin name was a useful device to connect children with their past and place them in the history of their families and communities. Because both slaveowner and slave used shared names as evidence of kinship, the Ball slaves appear to have avoided names uniquely associated with their male owners and the Ball lineage. This pattern of avoidance did not hold for female slaves, whose maternal parentage would be unquestioned, nor was it practiced when the male owner's name was common, since sharing such a name would not necessarily identify the owner as the father of the child."

In addition to these patterns of choice and avoidance, the Ball slaves' conversion to Christianity added an additional dimension to naming practices. The lessons of the Bible presented not only a new or revitalized pool of names for slaves but also a model of family organization that stressed male roles and paternal ties. The selection of a biblical name and the emphasis on the paternal line in the choice of a kin name brought slaves closer in some ways to the familial values of owners.

The evolution of these influences on naming practices can be seen in the family history of Windsor and Angola Ame, slaves on the Comingtee plantation.lB Windsor and Angola Ame had two sons and five daughters between 1743 and 1758. Each of the children received a name chosen, most likely, by the plantation owner or, at least, at his suggestion. The first son and daughter were given names that scholars label Anglicized day-names. Christmas, born on 25 December 1743, received a name appropriate for his date of birth. He was followed by a sister, Easter, born the Saturday before Easter Sunday. These names preserved the African form of day-naming or naming a child for an event, but the content of the name was that of a Christian religious holiday.19 The selection of these names indicates either direct owner interference or the recognition of the Christian and work holidays of Christmas and Easter by Windsor and Angola Ame, who applied the content of the holiday to an African form.

Although slaves generally avoided the use of male names uniquely associated with their owners, female slaves occasionally received the name of an owner's sweetheart, wife, or daughter. Windsor and Angola Ame's second daughter was named Lydah (Lydia), sharing a form of the name of her owner's bride, Lydia Child Chicken Ba11.20 The appearance of Lydia as a slave name at Comingtee

"Inscoe, "Carolina Slave Names," 539-40. Inscoe detected a pattern of avoidance of owner's names on the plantations he studied.

'' Angola Arne was brought to Comingtee in 1726 when she was probably less than ten years old. Windsor does not appear in either the birth or purchase records for 1720 through 1735, suggesting that his birth occurred before 1720 or that he was purchased sometime between 1735and 1743. Either scenario would be consistent with the record of the births of his children.

'"Wood, Black Majority, 181-82.

'"Deas, Recollections of Comingtee, 667 1.



Windsor I Angola Ame I purchased 1726


Christmas Easter Lydah Surry London Dye Subrina Smart Cleopatra
b Dec 25 b March 29 b 1748 b 1751 b 1744 b1753 goddard b 1758
1743 1746     Gambia   b 1755  
  Windsor b 1775 Cordelia Jeme Jacky Dinah b 1777 b1780 b1782 b1784
I twins    
David Amey January Windsor Exeter Isabel No name Dick Amey Diana March Christmas Easter
b 1766b 1769bJan 18 b 1770 1771 dead b 1773 b 1775 dead dead b 1778   b 1775 Windsor b July 2 1777 b1779 bMarch b Sept 1780 1783 Atwins
Amey Beck Marcus Lydia Windsor Easter Flora London Christmas Glasgow Billy Sam
b 1772 b 1774 b 1777 b 1779 b 1781 b Apr4 b 1786 b 1788 b July 14 b 1793 b 1796
          1784   1791    

suggests that either Windsor and Angola Ame or Elias I1 used the opportunity of the birth of a female child to name a child for the owner's bride.

The sources for the names of the next four children are more literary than personal or religious and reflect the breadth of sources used by owners for slave names. Windsor and Angola Ame's second son, Surry, like his father, was given an English place name. Diana (Dye) is the Latin name for the moon goddess and also a common English name. Subrinagoddard (later shortened to Sabrina, Sabina, and possibly Binah) may have its origin in German or Scandinavian mythology. Cleopatra (later Patra), for the Queen of the Nile, was one of the few female figures from ancient history available as a namesake.

This initial group of nine names (Windsor, Angola Ame, Christmas, Easter, Lydah, Surry, Dye, Subrinagoddard, and Cleopatra) was repeated among the children of the next generation, demonstrating that slaves reused owner-influenced names as kin names and in this way made them their own. The names of Windsor and Angola Ame were used by their children in naming the couple's grandchildren, thus connecting the second generation of American-born slaves with their African-born grandparents. Each of the four daughters who survived to bear children named a son for the maternal grandfather, Windsor. Easter's third son, who shared the name Windsor, died shortly after birth in 1773; two years later, Cleopatra's first son, Windsor, also died as an infant. When Subrinagod- dard's two sisters were unable to perpetuate their father's name, she changed the name of her oldest son from July (he was born on 2 July 1777) to Windsor. Dye and London's second son, born in 1781, also shared the name of his maternal grandfather. The efforts these four women made to perpetuate the name of their father, including changing the name of July, indicates that they placed a high priority on the preservation of family names. This desire may have been intensified by the elder Windsor's death prior to 1778. In reusing the name of their father for their sons, the four sisters attempted to ensure that his memory would be kept alive into the next generation.

The daughters of Windsor and Angola Ame also chose their mother as a namesake for their daughters. Easter, Dye, and Subrinagoddard all named their first-born daughters for Angola Ame. Significantly, none of them named a daughter for herself. Cleopatradid not reuse her mother's name, although she had two opportunities. Perhaps she felt that, since a living namesake existed, she could carry out another naming agenda.

Unlike the Balls, whose naming practices reflected depth but little breadth, the slaves emphasized kin ties that included both generational depth and breadth. Dye named daughters for her dead sister Lydah and for Easter, and a son for her brother, Christmas. She named a son London, after his father. Although Easter and Cleopatra seem to have been less involved in kin naming, Subrinagoddard gave five of her six children names for maternal kin. She named a daughter for each of her older sisters and a son for her only living brother.

Day-names and event names appeared seven times among the third generation of this family, illustrating the use of Anglicized day and event names and the perpetuation of this type of name as a kin name. Julv (later, Windsor) and March,

Cheryl1 Ann Cody

the sons of Subrinagoddard, were born in the months for which they were named. Similarly, the name of Easter's son January was consistent with his month of birth. Although Windsor and ,4ngola Ame's children Christmas and Easter received their names because of their dates of birth, the names were perpetuated as kin names. Sons of Subrinagoddard, and those of London and Dye born in July and September, were named Christmas. The name Easter was perpetuated as a kin name during April of 1784 and again in 1785.

The daughters of Windsor and Angola Ame were successful in transmitting kin names through the maternal line. Their brother Christmas probably shared a similar desire to name his offspring for his parents and siblings, but, unlike his sisters, Christmas had few opportunities to find a spouse on the plantation, and he may not have fathered a child in a recognized union at Comingtee. Between 1750 and 1780, Christmas lived on a plantation where the adult males outnum- bered females, and it may have been difficult for him to form a stable union. A list of Ball slaves in 1784 places him at Comingtee, where the ratio was 210 males per 100 females, and men over the age of fifteen outnun~bered women of the same age group twenty-three to seven. The list also placed him as head of a family that included the children of his deceased sister, Easter.;!'

'The inability of some male slaves to form unions on their home plantations means that any family names they were able to pass on to their children would have been on another plantation and would not be reflected in the Ball family records. Although this ~ap

in the evidence produces an apparent bias in favor of the recognition of maternal kin, even for instances in which both spouses were born on Comingtee, no paternal preference in kin naming as seen among the Ball family can be found during this early period (see Tables 8 and 9).

Evidence suggests that. by the fourth and fifth generations, slaves began gradually to shift kin naming from a bilateral system to one that emphasized the paternal line. Lydia, the daughter of London and Dye. was the mother of four children: David, f'ompey, Monday, and Rachel. The records do not reveal their father or fathers nor do the children bear names that were shared by maternal kin. In selecting the names of their children, Lydia's son Pompey and his wife Peggy reflected a transitional system that emphasized the maternal line while beginning a shift in favor of paternal kin names. They named five of their ten children for paternal kin and turned to Pompey's mother's family for four of their children's names. They named Dye for Pompey's maternal grandmother. Billy and Sam were named for Pompey's maternal uncles and Flora for his maternal aunt. Only one daughter, Rachel, shared the name of a relative in the immediate paternal line, specifically, Pompey's sister who had died. They gave Binah a common name for slave girls on the Ball plantations, but, again, they may have used Pompey's maternal great-aunt, Subrinagoddard, as a namesake. IVhen selecting names from the extended kin group, Pompey chose the names of his mother's family. No child of Pompey and Peggy shared the name of a parent or grandparent. Kin names

" "A List of Negroes the Property of Elias Ball, Made the 12th Day of May 1784," Ball Family Papers, South Carolina Historical Society; Cody, "Slave Demography and Family Formation," 50-55.

3 0 ln m jC

m-m m





mr-m mr-m


c" w: r'



were used to link children born in the 1820s and 1830s with a more distant ancestry.

THESIZE, CONTINUITY, AND COMPOSITION OF THE SLAVE-NAMING POOL developed out of these influences on the selection of slave names. While the Balls drew from a small pool of names, the slaves drew from a large one, a consequence of the desire of owners to provide each slave with a unique identity. As in the case of the children of Windsor and Angola Ame, the sources of these names were diverse. This need for a large pool of names may have enhanced the ability of slaves, at least among the first generation, to maintain African names as well as African practices of day-naming. For 1,163 male children born between 1720 and 1863, a total of 254 different names were used. The slightly larger number of 1,18 1 female children received their names from a smaller pool of 223 names. Prior to 1780, slaves born on the Ball plantations were given names that reflected the owner's desire for diversity. During these years, approximately three of four slaves (74.2 percent) received a name that had not been used before for an American-born child. Not all of these names were necessarily "new," in that some were used for slaves who had been purchased during that period, but they were new among slaves born on the Ball plantations. Between 1780 and 1800, the slaves began to name their own children, and they used a kin system. About two-thirds (66.1 percent) of the children were given names that had been used previously. The first two decades of the nineteenth century saw another shift in the structure of naming. But, after 1820, few names were given to slaves that had not been chosen continuously since they first entered the pool.

The chronological pattern is highly suggestive of the shift. Prior to 1780, slaves born on the Ball plantations received names that, in their diversity, failed to reflect generational ties. As was the case in the family of Windsor and Angola Ame, few children shared the name of a parent or, in fact, of any other living slave born on the Ball plantations. After 1780, the pattern was altered as a smaller percentage of "new" names was introduced and the use of kin names became more common. This was the second generation of American-born slaves to share the names of grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Between 1800 and 1820, more "new" names were introduced on the Ball plantations, but, after 1820, few names were brought into use, perhaps because the slight surge of names between 1800 and 1820 increased and diversified the pool of names to accommodate nearly everyone's naming agenda.

One measure of the continuity of names on the Ball plantations is the reuse of the group of names given to the first generation of American-born slaves for children born in the nineteenth century. Because this group of names was selected by owners in the interest of creating a distinct identity for each individual, the rate of persistence of these names indicates the long-term influence of owners on slaves' names. The repetition of names, family names in particular, depended on the size of slave families, the level of mortality, and the stability of the population under observation, and is difficult to measure; nonetheless, some comparisons are possible.

Cheryl1Ann Cody

The method devised to capture the persistence of male and female names on the Ball plantations consists of recording the appearance of each name (results reported in Table 4). If a name was reused within forty years of its first appearance, it was counted as an "active" name. If a name was not reused within forty years, it was counted as removed from the "active" pool during the first twenty-year period it was not used for a child born on the plantations. For example, the name Caesar was used for one child born between 1720 and 1740. It was not reused during the next twenty-year period but appeared twice as the name of boys born between 1760 and 1780. Again, the next twenty years saw no child named Caesar, but two children born between 1800 and 1820, three between 1820 and 1840, and six between 1840 and 1865 shared the name. Caesar, then, u7as counted as a new name in the 1720 to 1740 period and as one of twenty-one of the original thirty-one names still active in 1865. Another classical name, Cato, was first used for a child born on the Ball plantations between 1760 and 1780. It was one of the forty-four male names that were "new" (had not been used previously for a child at birth) during that twenty-year period. "Cato" was reused during the next twenty years, but no slave born on the Ball plantations after 1800 was named Cato. Cato, then, was one of the two names first introduced between 1760 and 1780 and reused during the following period that was not used again after 1800.

Male and female names show a substantial difference in continual use on the Ball family plantations: male names were far more likely to disappear than were female names. In every period (see Table 4), more female names that were new to the pool of names were reused and remained in use up to the Civil War. Of greatest interest to the point under consideration is the persistence of the owner-influenced names that appeared before 1780. Of the thirty-one names given to male children between 1720 and 1739, two-thirds were acti~e in 1865 and had been active for more than a hundred years. Female names once used for a slave on the Ball plantations continued to be reused with greater frequency, and 85.7 percent of those introduced between 1720 and 1739 remained active until 1865.

One explanation for the difference in the rates of persistence of male and female names can be found in the shifts in the frequent) of some categories of names among slaves. I have classified names as biblical, classical, common English, Spanish, or French in origin; as place-names, day-names, or African names.22 Biblical names that were in common English usage were classified as English names, thus defining the biblical category narrowly and includingonly names that were clearly biblical in origin. Both the African day-names and their Anglicized translations, such as Monday and Friday, have been categorized together. and the day-name category was expanded to include names that were used because they linked the child with an event that occurred at its birth. For this reason, months of the year, seasons and holiday names, such as Christmas and Easter, have been designated as day-names.

22 George R Stewart, A~nencafcGwen hiamex Th~zrOrzgzn mnd Hzstov zn tJ~e Context of the Engizrh Language (New York, 1979), 29-31.

Most striking is the increased use of biblical names for male children of slaves. During the first hundred years, 1720 to 18 19, biblical names were chosen for between 20 and 25 percent of male children. In the same period, biblical names accounted for less than 20 percent of all female names. After 1820, the number of biblical names for boys increased dramatically, accounting for four out of ten names. No comparable increase in the use of biblical names for females appears during the nineteenth century.23

The gender difference in the use of biblical names can be seen in the names chosen by John Ball, Jr., in 1805 and 1806 for two groups of newly purchased Africans. The six male slaves were all namesakes of figures from the Old Testament, including Nathan, Ishmael, and two sets of brothers, Moses and Aaron, Israel and Esau. The seven female slaves received names derived from a variety of sources-Roxena, Juno, Judy, Tenah, Pallas, Bobbet (presumably, Babette), and M0lly.24

By the nineteenth century, place-names and day-names, two types of names that were used by slaves but did not appear among the white population, declined in use among the Ball slaves. Place-names such as Windsor, London, Glasgow, and Dublin were common among the first slaves born on the Ball plantations and accounted for about one in four names given to males between 1720 and 1740. Most often, place-names reflected the English and Irish roots of the slaveowners. When the names persisted in use-they constituted about 10 percent of all male names after 1740-they were usually transmitted as kin names. Place-names were almost exclusively male, with only Cuba (possibly the African name Cooba) appearing among females.

Day-names in all their forms also declined in popularity and did not account for more than 5 percent of all male names after 1800. They were rarely used for female slaves. Most day-names, as well as names for holidays, months, and seasons, entered the pool of names as actual day-names but were continued in usage as kin names. Eleven of the fourteen children (78.6 percent) who received Anglicized day-names during the eighteenth century were given names appropriate for their day of birth. By the nineteenth century, the percentage of day-names that accurately recorded the day, month, season, or holiday of a child's birth had declined to fourteen of thirty-five (40 percent). The decline suggests that, although day-naming persisted into the nineteenth century among the Ball slaves, more often than not, the name was selected for another reason, frequently, as in the case of Christmas and Easter, as a kin name.

African day-names that survived in usage in the African form rarely retained the meaning associated with the day. Cuffee ("born on a Friday") was a popular name for male children on the Ball plantations, appearing eight times. However, it was used only once for a boy born on a Friday. Mimba, by African naming rules a name bestowed on girls born on a Saturday, was also a common name, but it was used only two of eight times for a girl born on Saturday, a weak pattern at best,

23 Inscoe, "Carolina Slave Names," 54146.
"John Ball Plantation Books, Southern Historical Collection, Chapel Hill

since even a random use of the name would result in an appropriate day-name use in one out of seven instances.

Peter Wood's suggestion that some common slave names survived because they closely resembled the sound of more traditional African day-names is not supported by the evidence of the Ball plantations.25 If these names did persist because of their sound, they rarely retained the African meaning Wood implied. Jack, a name that Wood argued may have persisted among slaves because it was derived from Quaco ("boy born on a Wednesday") was given to a child born on that day in only two of twelve instances. The name Phoebe, which Wood maintained was derived from Phiba, for a girl born on a Friday, was used eight times but never for a girl born on that day.

Classical names declined in use after 1800 as well. Like place-names and day-names, classical names were rarely found among the slaveowners. These names were associated almost exclusively with slaves. Prior to 1800, classical names accounted for about 20 percent of names given to male slaves born on the Ball plantations. During the nineteenth century, the share of classical names declined to about 10 percent. The gender difference in the frequency of classical names illustrates how these names came into use. As elsewhere in the colonial South, favorite names included Pompey, Cato, and Caesar, indicating that the Balls were well acquainted with Plutarch's Lives and turned to the classics and ancient history as a means of creating a diverse pool of slave names. Female characters are rare in these sources and provided few potential namesakes for slaves.26

Other slaves born in the eighteenth century received names that reflect the literary tastes of their owners. The plays of Shakespeare provided the names Cordelia, from King Lear, and possibly Celia, from As You Like It, as well as for one child, Romeo. Evidence suggests that the Balls also selected characters from popular contemporary fiction as namesakes for their slaves. The list of slaves in 1784 at Limerick plantation records an adult male slave named Gil Blas, whose name was continued into the next generation by his son. Since it is unlikely that the slaves had access to Alain Rene Le Sage's Histoy and Adventures of Gil Blas of Santillane, the probable source for the name was the owner's library.27

THETRANSITION FROM SLAVE NAMES TO NAMES MORE WIDELY USED by other populations appears in a comparison of the leading names for the Ball slaves with those of their owners and the most common names in Hingham in Massachusetts and Middlesex County in Virginia.28 The leading names for male and female children born on the Ball plantations for 1720 to 1799,1800 to 1865, and the entire period are reported in Tables 6 and 7.Z9 Male names on the Ball plantations

"Wood, Black Majority, 182-83; Joyner, Down by the Riverside, 2 18-19.

26 "Catalogue of Books at Marshland Farm Belonging to John Ball," Ball Family Papers, Perkins Library, Duke University, Durham, N.C.

27 Ibid.

"Smith, "Child-Naming Practices"; and Rutman and Rutman, A Place in Time: Explicatw, 83-106.''Three features of these distributions should be noted. First, as a result of the large size of the pool of names and the relatively small number of cases, many of the rankings are shared by two or more

between 1720 and 1799 bear only a partial resemblance to the most common names among blacks and whites in the Middlesex and Hinghain populations of the eighteenth century, reflecting both the distinctive quality of black names and perhaps the local character of the slaves and slaveowners. Only six names, Tom, Dick, John (Jack), Jemme (James), Peter, and Charles, rank among the leading fifteen names for both Middlesex slaves and the Ball family slaves. These common English names were also among the leading names for whites in Middlesex. With one exception, the same six names were among the leading names in eighteenth- century Hingham (Smith's 1741 to 1780 parental marriage cohort). Names that were used exclusively among slaves did not overlap the two slave populations. Cupid, Alix, Prince, and Cuffee were popular names only among Ball slaves and were not shared to a large degree by slaves in Middlesex. The choice of "Maurey" and "Maurice" for Ball slaves may be attributed to the French Protestant influence present in the Low Country but not felt in either Middlesex or Hingham.30 Regional variations in the Euro-American population evidently could affect the names of slaves.

The set of male names for slaves born between 1800 and 1865 on the Ball plantations shares many elements with the leading names in Hingham (Smith's 1781 to 1820 parental marriage cohort). Nine of the most popular fifteen names appear in both populations, which selected the same three leading names, William, John, and Thomas. The two populations also shared the common English names Charles, George, and James and the names of the biblical patriarchs, although "Abraham" is curiously absent from the Hingham list. Only one name that is obviously reserved exclusively for slaves appears among the leading names for Ball slaves-Prince.

Female slaves on the Ball plantations consistently shared a smaller group of names with both the Hingham population and earlier generations of whites and blacks in Middlesex. Prior to 1800, the Ball slaves shared only the names Mary, Betty, Jenny, Hannah, and Beck with slaves born and entering Middlesex. For roughly the same period (Smith's 174 1to 1780 parental marriage cohort), they also shared five names with Hingham women (Mary. BettyIElizabeth, Hannah, Rebecca, and Rachel). The most popular names for female Ball slaves born in the

names. Second, names used with less frequency and ranked lower than the leading names have an even greater number of tied rankings. These two features render more powerful a statistical approach to the comparative ranking and ordering of the names of limited value. The Rutmans compute Spearman's rho and Pearsonian r as correlation coefficients between each period and the preceding period for which they have naming evidence. This method is problematic in distributions with a large number of tied rankings. The result of such computations is an apparently higher level of correlation. On the uses and misuses of Spearman's rho, see John Mueller, Karl Schuessler, and Herbert Coster, Statistical Reasoning in Sociolo~(Boston, 1977),260-63. Third, formal names and diminutives that are counted together should be considered related names but not interchangeable in the written record of the slave population maintained by the Balls. Thus, Mary, Maria, Maryanne, and Marion were four individuals who shared a name that was common in root but not used interchangeably. Because slaveowners were interested in maintaining a broad pool of names, they carefully and consistently recorded all ~zriations in the sound of a name as a distinctive name. This is not to say that nicknames were not in use; however, the written record does not indicate this type of variation for individuals.

"On the Huguenot influence in South Carolina, see Jon Butler, The Huguenots in America: A Rpfugee P~oplr in XEZUWorld Societ)l (Cambridge, Mass., 1983).

nineteenth century overlapped to a greater extent with those found for Middlesex blacks of the eighteenth century than they did with the white populations of Hingham or Middlesex's residents. Six of the most frequent fourteen names were shared with Hingham, and five of those names with one addition were also in common use among Middlesex's whites. Six names were shared by Middlesex's native-born blacks, and eight of the leading fourteen names can be found among slaves entering eighteenth-century Middlesex County or the Ball slaves born in the nineteenth century. One explanation for this pattern may be that some of the names used by slaves were uniquely identified with slave women. "Binah" may have had West African origins in the names Binta or Beneba, or it may have been derived from the name S~brinagoddard.~l

Binah appears on none of the lists of leading names in Hingham or Middlesex. Hagar, the servant who bore the biblical Abraham's son Ishmael, would be an unlikely choice of name for a white woman.

Despite the shifts in choices of slave names, especially the names of male slaves, the long-term impact of the initially diverse pool of names can be detected well into the nineteenth century. One way to index the comparative size of the pool of names and the frequency with which the most common names were used is to determine the percentage of names concentrated at the top of each cohort. As previously noted, members of the Ball family relied so heavily on family names that more than half of the family's sons received one of four names and half of the daughters received one of six names. Because a high degree of name concentration within a lineage is only logical, a more useful comparison can be made with the Hingham population (Smith's 1781 to 1820 parental marriage cohort). In Hingham, 16.3 percent of the male children were given one of the three leading names, William, John, or Thomas. The same names, which were also the leading names for Ball slaves born after 1800, accounted for a total of 7.1 percent of all male names, or less than half the concentration at the top as seen in Hingham. The twenty most frequent names at Hingham contributed more than half (53.1 percent) of all names given to the community's boys. On the Ball plantations, about one-third

(34.8 percent) of the boys received one of the nineteen leading names. Female names on the Ball plantations and at Hingham were more heavily concentrated among leading names. Nearly one in four girls (24.6 percent) of Hingham received one of the three leading names-Mary, Lydia, or Hannah. On the Ball plantations, 10.5percent of the girls received one of the three leading names-Mary, Elizabeth, or Binah. More than 70 percent of the girls in Hingham as compared to 36.2 percent of the Ball slave girls bore one of the twenty most common names.

Comparison with the leading names for slaves and whites in other populations indicates that male slaves on the Ball plantations, especially after 1800, were beginning to share a common set of names with white populations, especially that of Hingham, in which a strong biblical influence was felt. Female slaves maintained many names that were associated exclusively with their slave status and that set

31Wood cites J. L. Dillard in suggesting that the popularity of Binah as a South Carolina slave name may have as its root the African day-name Cubena, for girls born on a Tuesday. See Wood, Black Majority, 183; and J. L. Dillard, Black English (New York, 1972), 129-30.

TABLE 6 Leading Names for Male Slave Children Born on the Ball Plantations, 1720-1865

Cohort In


1st 2d 2d 2d 2d 2d 2d 2d 2d 10th 10th 10th 10th 10th






Cupid Alix Charles-Charley Cuffee Dick-Dicky John-Johnny Maurey Prince Tom David Devonshire Fortune Jacob Jimmy

Peter Pino Windsor

Percent Rank Name
35.6 Total  




















1st 2d 3d 4th 5th 6th 6th 6th 6th 10th llth llth llth 14th

19th Total


William-Billy John-Johnny Thomas-Tom Nathan-Nat Robert-Bob Abraham Charles-Charley Jacob Prince Benjamin-Ben Isaac James-Jimmy-Jim Maurice-Maurey Richard-Dicky-

Dick George Jack-Jacky Peter Samuel-

Sammy-Sam Alexander- Alix Joseph-Josey
























Which Formal
Name First

1800-19 1780-99 1800-1 9 1800-1 9 1800-19






1760-79 1740-59 1800-1 9







3 Leading Names 6.9 7.5 7.1
5 Leading Names 11.2 12.0 11.2
10 Leading Names 21.9 2 1 .0 19.6

TABLE 7 Leading Names for Female Slave Children Born on the Ball Plantations, 1720-1865

Cohort In
1720-1 799 (N = 235)   1800-1865 (N = 946)   1720-1865 (N = 1181) Which Formal Name First
Rank Name N Percent Kank Name N Percent Rank Name N Percent Appeared
1st Mary-Maria13 5.5 1st Mary-Maria 38 4.0 1st Mary-Maria 51 4.3 -
2d Hannah 8 3.4 2d Elizabeth-Betty 35 3.7 2d Elizabeth-Betty 41 3.5 1820-39
3d Jenny 7 3.0 3d Binah 30 3.2 3d Binah 32 2.7 -
4th Betty-Betsy 6 2.6 4th Susanna-Sue-Susey 24 2.5 4th Susanna-Sue-Susey 29 2.5 1800-19
4th Dolly 6 2.6 5th Rebecca-Beck-Becky 23 2.4 5th Rebecca-Beck-Becky 28 2.4 1800-19
6th 6th 8th Beck-Becky Diana-Dye Amey 5 5 4 2.1 2.1 1.7 6th 7th 8th Judy Diana-Dye Sarah-Sarey 21 20 19 2.2 2.1 2.0 6th 7th 8th Diana-Dye Judy Hannah 25 23 21 2.1 1.9 1.8 1760-79 --
8th 8th 8th 8th 8th 8th 8th Celia Clarinda Molly Peggy Rachel Sally Sylvia 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 1.7 1.7 1.7 1.7 1.7 1.7 1.7 9th 9th 11th 1 lth 11th 14th 15th Hagar Nancy Lucy Molly-Molsy Rachel Bella Cate 16 16 15 15 15 14 13 1.7 1.7 1.6 1.6 1.6 1.5 1.4 8th 10th 10th 10th 13th 14th 14th Sarah-Sarey Molly-Molsy Nancy Rachel Hagar .Jenny Lucy 21 19 19 19 18 17 17 1.8 1.6 1.6 1.6 1.5 1.4 1.4 1740-59 ------
8th 8th T'enah Tenang 4 4 1.7 1.7 15th 15th Flora Hannah 13 13 1.4 1.4 16th 16th Catherine-Cate-Catey Flora 16 16 1.4 1.4 1820-39 -
        15th Harriet 13 1.4 16th Harriet 17 1.4 -
      19th *     19th Bella 15 1.3 -
              20th **      
Total 90 -38.3     -353 -37.3     -443 -36.2  

Percent Percent Percent
3 Leading Names 11.9 10.9 10.5
5 Leading Names 17.1 15.8 15.4

10 Leading Names 26.4 25.5 24.6

* "Lydia" appeared eleven times as a name for a girl born on the Ball plantations between 1800 and 1865. Four xranles were used ten times; Jenny, Amey, Tenah,

and Sylvia. The name Jenny, which ranked third prior to 1800, declined to twentieth (tied with three others for the position). ** Between 1720 and 1865, the names Amey, Sylvia, Tenah, and Lydia were used foul-teen times each.

Cheryl1 Ann Cod?

them apart from white populations. Although a weak trend toward biblical and common English names can be detected, the infrequent use of the most popular names suggests a stronger influence. Slaves continued to perpetuate as kin names those names that originated in the existing name system based on owner-selected names for the first and second generations.

BYFAR THE MOST INTRIGUING SHIFT IN THE PATTERN of slave naming is the increased use of biblical names. Although planters' records fail to reveal the precise timing and the process by which the Ball slaves were converted to Christianity, they do reveal that, by the 1830s, a black preacher with his own church was active at Comingtee plantation. Efforts to convert the slaves may have begun as early as the 1780s, when British abolitionists and anti-abolitionists published essays linking the successful reproduction of slave populations in the New World with the conversion of slaves to Christianity and the promotion of stable marriages among slaves. The Balls were well acquainted with these writings. An inventory in 1817 of more than 400 volumes in John Ball, Sr.'s library included both the works of British abolitionist James Ramsey and the pro-slavery writings of Bishop Beilby Porteus.32 Ramsey's "Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of the African Slaves in the British Sugar Islands," published in 1784, recommended the conversion of the slave population as part of a humanitarian program to improve the quality of slave life.33 Bishop Porteus saw the conversion of slaves as one means of reducing promiscuity and increasing fertility among Caribbean slaves." Whatever the influence of these authors, the demographic records suggest that, by 1780, the Balls were developing a policy of maintaining and increasing their labor force through natural increase by adjusting plantation populations to a more balanced sex rati0.3~

The timing of the rise in the use of biblical names for male slaves on the Ball plantations is consistent with the conversion of slaves during the first two decades of the nineteenth century. In fact, the biblical names that slaves chose indicate not a mere acquaintance with but a clear understanding of a set of Bible stories, primarily from the Old Testament. The evidence is strong enough to show that these stories were the core of the oral religious instruction given the slaves. The lessons provided new names, a set of character values, and a model of the structure of a patriarchal society.

To analyze most effectively the use of biblical names, I have grouped them by Bible stories. Families of the Old Testament patriarchs, Moses and the Israelites, King David, Adam and Eve, Samson and Delilah, Lazarus, Mary, and Martha

32 "Catalogue of Books at Marshland Farm."

33 James Ramsey, "An Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of the African Slaves in the British Sugar Islands" (London, 1784); see Folarin Shyllon, James Ramre)':The Unknown Abolitionist (Edinburgh, 1977).

34 Beilby Porteus, "A Letter to the Governors, Legislatures, and Proprietors of Plantations in the British West India Islands" (London, 1808).

35 In 1784, only Comingtee had a gross imbalance between the sexes. At Kensington, also owned by Elias Ball, the sex ratio among adults was 91 males per 100 females. Cody, "Slave Demography and Family Formation," 51-54.

provided names and examples of vice and virtue. Names associated with the patriarchs were most popular: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. The story of Abraham mentions his wife, Sarah, their son, Isaac, Sarah's Egyptian servant, Hagar, and the son of Abraham and Hagar, Ishmael. Isaac's stories name his wife, Rebecca, and twin sons, Esau and Jacob (later, Israel). Jacob's stories detail his marriages to Laban's daughters, Leah and Rachel, and the births of his daughter, Dinah, and his twelve sons, including Joseph and Benjamin.

In selecting biblical names for their children, the slaves avoided some names, especially those of figures who exhibited deep flaws of character or appearance. From the story of Samson, slave parents chose the name of the hero for their sons but never the name Delilah for their daughters. From the stories of King David, slaves broke the continuity of the line of leadership--Hannah, Samuel, Saul, David, and Solomon-by omitting Saul. For those who heard his story recounted, Saul's jealousy, his erratic behavior, and suicide on the field of battle probably outweighed his positive qualities. Slaves avoided other namesakes from the King David stories. There was no Absalom on the Ball plantations. No slave parents used as a biblical namesake this disloyal son who rose in rebellion against his father. Nor did slave parents name a daughter for the adultress Bathsheba, though Uriah, the wronged husband, provided the name for one Comingtee slave.

Biblical stories supplied not only names for slaves but also a model of a system of kinship that emphasized the paternal line, as in the stories of the Old Testament. The link between conversion to Christianity and a paternal preference in naming is evident in the family of Preacher Brawley and his wife, Bina. Preacher Brawley worked as a hog minder at Comingtee. He built and preached in a "rough little clap-board church." According to his owners, he "professed and retained a certain amount of faithfulness to his master, but it was of a limited kind. As a preacher, he had considerable influence on the plantaticn; and, though tricky, was of great use, after the war, in inducing the hands to sign contracts."36

Preacher Brawley and Bina preferred biblical characters and paternal kin as namesakes for their children. Two sons, Trinity and Luke, were given names of biblical origin and new to the Ball slave population. Brawley, the first-born son, shared the name of both his father and paternal grandfather. After the death of the first young Brawley, Preacher Brawley and Bina reused the name for their fifth son, attempting to ensure the name replication of the paternal line into the next generation. They named their first daughter Hagar, for her paternal grand- mother, reflecting a preference for paternal kin naming. No daughter shared the name of her mother or maternal grandmother, and, despite the birth of eight grandsons, Bina's father, Adonis, did not have a child named for him.

The preference for biblical names, especially those of the Old Testament patriarchs, brought a potential conflict with one of the rules that governed the selection of names. Ball family slaves avoided or were forbidden the use of their owner's name during his lifetime, as well as family names that were unique to the owner's lineage. This prohibition would be logical, given the emphasis the Balls

36 Deas, Recollections of Comingtee, 166-67

placed on protecting and perpetuating family names. For example, no slave at any of the plantations received the name of the family patriarch and first immigrant, Elias. The use of the name Isaac is more instructive. The first appearance of Isaac as a slave name occurred in 1778, two years after Elias's son Isaac died. The Ball family reused "Isaac" in 1785 and again in 18 18. During the period 1780 to 1825, Ball slaves avoided the name. After both Isaac Balls died in 1824 and 1825, respectively, the slaves began to use the name for their children, naming ten boys Isaac over the next decade. Two slave families used Isaac as a necronymic sibling name. Although, for more than forty-five years, the slaves avoided using the name Isaac, they increasingly used biblical names, especially the names of the Old Testament patriarchs and the women associated with them. Names from the stories of Isaac run through the records: Abraham (six children), Sarah (ten), and Hagar (ten); Rebecca, Isaac's wife (thirteen), although "Rebecca" was popular prior to the transition to biblical naming. The biblical Isaac's sons, Esau and Jacob, were also sources of names. Jacob was the name for fourteen children, while the less fortunate Esau, only one.

The stories of the Old Testament place great emphasis on paternal kin reckoning and may have influenced a shift toward a paternal preference in the selection of kin names among slaves. In selecting kin names for their children, the Ball family slaves made a transition after 1800 from a system that favored the grandfather as a namesake to one that emphasized ties to the father. In addition, they preferred paternal over maternal kin in selecting family names, more nearly replicating the naming practices of their owners.

A look at kin naming among the Ball slaves before and after 1800 suggests kin naming never achieved the intensity that it did among members of the Ball family. Before 1800, when they selected a kin name, the Ball slaves more often turned to a grandfather as the namesake than to the father and were equally likely to select the paternal and maternal grandfathers. In only 15.2 percent of the thirty-three families in which the first child was born prior to 1800 did the slaves name a son for his father. In the thirteen fully reconstructed families, only 15.4 percent transmitted the name of a father to his son. More than 60 percent of the slave families succeeded in reusing the paternal grandfather's name for a son. Similarly, 60 percent of the families transmitted the name of the maternal grandfather. This pattern, albeit based on a small number of cases, suggests that the first generations of American-born slaves selected as kin names for their children names that linked the child to a more distant and, in some cases, African past, without preference for patrilineality.

When the slave families named daughters, they preferred grandmothers as namesakes. Only three of the thirty-three families (9.1 percent) used the mother as a namesake. Among the seventeen fully reconstructed families, only 11.8 percent transmitted the name of the mother to her daughter. Furthermore, slaves rarely used the paternal grandmother's name, preferring by far the mother's mother (in 70.6 percent of the families).

Slaves revealed their naming priorities when they named their first and second children. Most significantly, about 60 percent of the first and second sons and more

Cheryl1 Ann Cody

than 70 percent of the first and second daughters did not share either the name of parent or grandparent. Kin names, then, were perpetuated by subsequent children. One explanation for this pattern could be a necronymic naming system extended among a broadly defined kin.37 The daughters of Windsor and Angola Ame appear to have practiced a system of kin replacement during the eighteenth century. The mortality evidence for slaves born on the ail plantations during the eighteenth century is, unfortunately, too weak to test this hypothesis.

After 1800, the Ball slaves altered these naming patterns to emphasize paternal ties, adopting the naming preferences of the owners. Among the 133 slave families that began after 1800,27.1 percent named a son for his father. Families with three or more sons transmitted the father's name to the next generation for 42.1 percent of the families. In the thirty-eight fully reconstituted families, the pattern is stronger, with half of all families and two-thirds of the families with three or more sons reusing the father's name in the next generation. The paternal grandfather was also a common namesake for slave sons; the maternal grandfather was, however, rarely chosen. For all families, 36.8 percent succeeded in naming a son for his paternal grandfather, while only 10.5 percent perpetuated the name of the mother's father. This pattern suggests that a transition was occurring from a naming system favoring grandfathers' names to one favoring fathers' names and, within the selection of a grandfather's name, a clear preference to replicate the paternal line.

In naming daughters, the Ball slaves persisted in a pattern favoring the name of the grandmother over the name of the mother. Only 15.3 percent of the 131 families in which both parents were known and 12.5 percent of the fully reconstructed families named a daughter for her mother. They perpetuated both the paternal and maternal grandmothers' names, with more than one in three (37.5percent) of the families naming a daughter for her father's mother. One in five families used the name of the mother's mother. The preference for the paternal grandmother as a namesake is a reversal of the trend discerned for the eighteenth century favoring the maternal line and suggests that confirming ties to the paternal lineage grew in importance during the nineteenth century.

One indication of the strength of commitment to kin naming is the relatively low percentage of families with only one or two sons or daughters who used the name of a parent or grandparent for a child. Because no couple could predict the number of children of each gender they would produce, the selection of names for their first children reflect their priorities. In the nineteenth century as in the eighteenth, Ball slaves named only about three in ten first and second sons and daughters for kin. There is some indication that, in selecting kin names, the Ball slaves may have extended back beyond grandparents to confirm ties to more distant kin. The children of Pompey and Peggy are a case in point. Of the five children who received a kin name on the paternal side, four shared the name of

37 Cody, "Naming, Kinship and Estate Dispersal," 198-203. Slaves on the Gaillard plantation seem to have used the repetition of kin names to link a child with deceased kin or a family member who had been sold or removed from the plantations.

kin extending back more than two generations. Systematic evidence of this depth of kin recognition cannot be obtained from the Ball records, but the example suggests both the depth and breadth of slave kin naming. As slaves began to prefer paternal kin, at least some began to subordinate kin naming to biblical naming. Such slave couples delayed the use of parental and grandparental names for their children. In families begun after 1800, slave parents named almost as many first and second sons and daughters for non-kin biblical namesakes as for a parent or grandparent.

Previous studies of slave-naming practices reveal one pattern common to the slaveowners that was avoided by slaves-the naming of another child in a nuclear family to replace a deceased sibling. Although the Ball family used necronyms, they took advantage of only about 20 percent of the opportunities presented. This proportion does not suggest an avoidance of the practice but indicates some reluctance to reuse the name of a deceased child. Slaves on the Ball plantations also engaged in necronymic sibling naming. Thirty-six families were involved in the practice and a total of thirty-eight children shared the name of a deceased sibling. As was the case with the Ball family, this represents about a 20 percent use of opportunities to name a child for a dead sibling. It should be noted, however, a family-by-family examination of slaves who practiced necronymic naming reveals that, in thirty of the families, at least one parent in each family was on the "blue list," that is, was a skilled slave who received a higher quality cloth when allocations were made. Skilled slaves such as drivers, carpenters, poultry keepers, and domestic servants were either more fully acculturated to the naming practices of their owners than were field hands or they experienced greater owner interference when selecting a name for a child.

ONCEAFRICANS ARRIVED IN THE NEW WORLD, they began the process of transform- ing their African culture into an Afro-American one. Although they were unable to reproduce many of the artifacts of their African slave systems, they preserved the hidden structures by which a society functions. Their values as well as some of their African practices could be retained in the names they selected for their children. The naming practices of the Ball family slaves suggests that the system of slave naming evolved from one based on owner selection, with perhaps some slave participation, to one in which the slaves chose the names of their own children. In this process, the slaves turned first to the preservation of kin names. The first generation of American-born slaves used the names of their children to connect grandparent with grandchild, second generation American-born to African-born. By drawing kin connections to a wide network of family, slaves developed a kin-naming system that was distinctive from that of their owners.

This distinction was to be short-lived as slaves were exposed to other forces that influenced the names they selected and the naming practices they chose. Like other slave populations, the slaves on the Ball plantations were exposed to the teachings of the Bible, which provided not only names but also a model of a patrilineal society. As they turned to biblical names with greater frequency, slaves revealed

Cheryl1 Ann Cody

a preference for some characters, a distaste for others, and structured a kin system that emphasized the connections between father and son and among broader relations of paternal kin. In transforming their naming system from one that was based on bilateral kin reckoning and that sought significant ties between the present and more distant past, slaves changed their naming practices to resemble more closely those of their owners.

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