Louisiana Slave Trade

Naming Practices

Once brought to Louisiana and sold, the slaves were usually given Christian names or classical names of the Greco-Roman civilization. Some names were inspired by popular plays of the time. Lindor, probably the most frequent male name in the Louisiana Slave Database, is a character in The Barber of Seville, a very successful play written in 1773 by French writer Pierre Beaumarchais. Another character in the same play is L’Éveillé (the hip one). This name was also very popular among the slaves of Louisiana. Nevertheless, many retained their African names. So, it was quite usual for the slaves born in Africa and the Creoles to have at least two names: the Christian name given by the master and the African name they brought with them or which they gave to their children. Nicknames may add to those official names for the purpose of mystical protection. In West African folk beliefs, the more names one carries, the more that person is supposed to be protected from evil spirits and spells cast by human beings. In many parts of Africa, the naming of a child depended on many factors such as the day and/or the order of birth and the circumstances of birth. Since some parts of West Africa like Senegambia also had a long history of Islam, many slaves brought from these regions had Islamic names such as Omar, Amar, Moussa, Alsindor, Aly, Biram (Ibrahim), Mahomet, etc. Some names were expressed in French, but they are very reminiscent of naming practices in Africa meant to express the person’s temper such as Joly Cœur (“sweet heart” or “the generous one”), Sans Soucy (“without trouble”), and Sans Quartier (“without mercy”) often times misspelled Sancartier. The names Sannom or Sans nom (“without name”), for either gender, recalls a custom in West Africa where people avoid giving a name to a child when the mother had lost many others before him/her. Among the Fulbe/Pulaar (Fulani) the child is called “alaa inde” (literally ‘does not have a name’). The Wolof use the expressions “Bougouma” (‘I don’t want’) or “Ken Buggul” (‘nobody wants’), which are believed to turn away “evil spirits” allegedly responsible for the previous deaths. Bougouman is a frequent name in the Louisiana slave database built by Gwendolyn Midlo Hall.
Reference: Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Louisiana Slave Database (2000), online at