Old Slave Names
— A contributor in the March Atlantic argues that Bryant followed closely the canons of reason and realism in giving to his hunter’s wife the saintly name of Genevieve. The same contributor asserts that these fanciful names — Gwendolen, Editha, Alone, and the rest — especially abound in the backwoods of the South.
In the remote settlements of that sort of which I have any knowledge, it has usually happened that the names of the neighborhood showed distinctly the influence of the one or two cultivated and beneficent families living adjacent thereto. As the names of the members of these “ old families ” are usually almost Biblical in their plainness and severity, it followed that the dwellers in the neighboring settlements bear like simple names, — with, however, the favorite affix of the backwoods, Ann or Jane; as, for instance, Charlotte Jane, Julia Jane, Martha Ann, Phanuel Ann. Even the unique names that sometimes venture into the hallowed precincts of old families are adopted by the admiring “ piney woodsman.” and are treated with a like affix. Then names like the following become very popular in a poverty-stricken settlement : Dixie Ann, Buena Vista Jane, Secessia Ann Jane, — names that breathe of battle brought to absolute plainness by the peace-breathing affix. There are some names, however, indigenous to certain neighborhoods, which remain with a settlement and flourish there forever and a day, — names like these : Lorene, Lethe, Lomie.
There is one vein of Southern namelore that will yield an unfailing supply of oddity and variety, —the names of the negroes : some new names given in freedom, but more especially quaint are the old slave names. The origin of these marvels of queerness is lost, as is the inception of so many marvels ; their ultimatum is exhibited in these examples absolutely taken from life : Juniper Buzby, Rina Multon, Bania Agnew, Bob Robert Langdon, Moses Carr the Prophet. Prophet Christian, Reason Hiwton, Shadrach-Meshach - AbednegoHebrewChillen-De-Fiery-Furnace, Pirree Sylvanee Poke, Apple White Scarlet Jones, July Grey. Fancy the combination of any suggestion of dimness, any hint of gray, with the name of a month that sparkles through and through with unmarred brilliancy, that glitters with scintillation of sunshine and moonlight until it glows one flame of lucent gold!
The old negroes, the preservers of “before the war ” memories, wear often the exquisite cognomens of Greece,— Daphne and Chloe being usual names for old head-handkerchief ed aunties. Their names sometimes are intended to tell a story, — a proposition that this bitter one accentuates : John Brown Son Of Jim Brown My Master Whip Me And De Niggers Stand Around.
The following belong especially to the negroes of “since the war ” birth ; they breathe freedom of fancy at least : Mary Ellen Purgana Roberta Louisa Eliza; Daisy Lucy Alice Mary Ella ; Carter Avery John Wesley Mumford Jones; and still another. Murthine Nilline Feradine Hygine Corney White. But most marvelous of all is the name of an old, old negro of Hale County, Alabama,— a name that is a wonder and marvel, for there can be no other like it in heaven above or in the earth beneath: George Solomon King Dick Lick A Loon Half At Log Cabin I Been Dar Ole Verginny Nigger Lie By De Fire Eat Parch Corn And Potatoes And Send De Dogs Ter De Simmon Tree And Have Guards After Dem Ter See Dat Dee Do Go.