Naming Traditions

The Akan people of the Gold Coast (Ghana) frequently name their children after the day of the week they were born and the order in which they were born. This important naming tradition can be seen throughout the West African diaspora including the Caribbean Islands of Jamaica and Barbados, active Newport slave trading partners. The retaining, and in some cases reclaiming, of African names became a powerful means of preserving their African identity. Often times the names became phoneticized or Anglicized by either their European masters or themselves when writing in English. Of those found in Newport, here are a few examples:

  • Quash (Kwasi) – For boys born on Sunday
  • Cudjo (Kojo)- For boys born on Monday
  • Quarco (Kwaku) -For boys born on Wednesday
  • Cuffe (Kofi) – For boys born on Friday
  • Quamino (Kwame) – For boys born on Saturday
  •  Mimba/Mimbo – For girls born on Saturday
  • Juba (Ajoba) – For girls born on Monday
  • Subina/Subiner (Abenna) – For girls born on Tuesday

Here in Newport, we have long had record of Newport Gardner’s African name, Occramar Marycoo – but recent research has led us to believe it may be the phonetic pronunciation and spelling of Okyerema Mireku. Okyerema is the Akan name for a master drummer and interpreter. Interestingly, Newport Gardner would become a celebrated music composer, teacher and is recognized today as the first African published composer of music in America. And the learning continues…

Enslaved and later free Africans would also be given names from Greek Mythology and European Royalty including Prince, Cato, Scipio, Pompey, Hercules and Duchess. Geography was also used for descriptive names such as, Newport, Bristol, Rhode Island, Cape Coast, and Africa.

“It is not what you are called, but what you answer to”

-African Proverb

One interesting note in naming traditions in Colonial Newport is that a significant number of 18th century African women in Newport bear the name Violet.

violetViolet Carr
Violet Hammond
Violet Scott
Violet Thurston
Violet Searing
Violet Brown
Violet Sisson
Violet Quamino
Violet Stevens
Violet Brown
Violet Peabody
Violet Peck
Violet James
Violet Robinson
Violet Hull
Violet Topham
Violet Dearborn


Ethnic Genealogical Resources

African American Genealogy records are much more difficult to find due to the scarce number of primary source records for African Americans prior to the Civil War. We hope the numerous African and African American names, as well as the information on their work, worship and extended families will help others in their search for their heritage.  Click here for a list of resource publications.