MEANING OF SLAVES' NAMES

The names below are important for two reasons. First, for many of those who were enslaved in Brookline, the names are the only personal information we now have on them, which is a disgrace.
We can acknowledge their humanity and individuality by calling their names.

Second, the names themselves tell stories, both of the power of slave owners and also of resistance by the enslaved. Most names express owners' desire to belittle slaves and to assert the owners' own elevated cultural heritage.
Owners chose names that were

  • Biblical names of enslaved people: Hagar, Dinah
  • Other Biblical names: Adam, Jethro, Peter
  • Diminutive names: Jack, Jackie, Jenny, Kate, Moll, Tobey
  • Place names, especially of slave ports: Boston, Ben Boston, Exeter, Kent, Warwick
  • Classical names to indicate the owners' cultured ways: Caesar, Dido, Pompey, Primus, Venus

However, some enslaved people were able to keep names from West Africa.
In Brookline, African names chiefly came from the Akan people of present-day Ghana and the Ivory Coast:

  • Jack (an anglicized version of the Akan name Quaco)
  • Ackey, Quaco, Cuff (and its variations, Cuffe and Coff)
  • Cuff, more properly Kofi, is also the name of the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan.
  • Sambo is a name from Senegal.

At least one of the seven known Native American enslaved men kept his traditional name: Tounnaguin.

NAMES OF ENSLAVED BROOKLINERS:

We know of over eighty enslaved people in Brookline. This number, however, is an estimate, because some people may not have been mentioned in owners' documents or counted in tax and census forms. Also, a few people may have inadvertently been double-counted. (Note: some names appear repeated, but are the names of distinct people).

Ackey
Adam
Ben Boston
Boston
Bung
Caesar
Caesar
Charles
Coff
Cuff
Cuff
Cuffe
Dido
Dinah
Dinah
Dinah
Dinah
Dinah
Exeter
Felix
Flora
George

Great David
Hagar
Hawkins
Jack
Jack
Jack
Jackie
Jane
Jenny
Jenny
Jeremy
Jethro
John Indian
Kate
Kate
Kate
Katherine Cuff
Kent
Lemon
Margaret
Moll
Pamela

Peter
Peter
Phillis
Phillis
Pompey
Primus
Primus
Primus
Prince
Quaco
Reube
Rose
Rose
Sambo
Seco
Titus
Tobey
Tounnaquin
Venus
Venus
Violet
Warwick
William

- and eighteen whose owners listed them in documents simply as 'negro'
84 enslaved people