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A slave name is the personal name given by others to an enslaved person, or a name inherited from enslaved ancestors. The modern use of the term applies mostly to African Americans and Afro-Caribbeans who are descended from enslaved Africans who retain their name given to their ancestors by the enslavers.
“The slave master who owned us put his last name on us to denote that we were his property. So when you see a negro today who’s named Johnson, if you go back in his history you will find that his grandfather, or one of his forefathers, was owned by a white man who was named Johnson. My father didn’t know his last name. My father got his last name from his grandfather, and his grandfather got it from his grandfather, who got it from the slave master. The real names of our people were destroyed during slavery.”
In Rome, slaves were given a single name by their owner. A slave who was freed might keep his or her slave name and adopt the former owner's name as a praenomen and nomen. As an example, one historian says that "a man named Publius Larcius freed a male slave named Nicia, who was then called Publius Larcius Nicia."
Historian Harold Whetstone Johnston writes of instances in which a slave's former owner chose to ignore custom and simply chose a name for the freedman.
Further information: African-American names
A number of African-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans have changed their names out of the belief that the names they were given at birth were slave names. An individual's name change often coincides with a religious conversion (Muhammad Ali changed his name from Cassius Clay, Malcolm X from Malcolm Little, and Louis Farrakhan changed his from Louis Eugene Walcott, for example) or involvement with the black nationalist movement, in this later case usually adopting names of African origin (e.g., Amiri Baraka and Assata Shakur).
Some organizations encourage African-Americans to abandon their slave names. The Nation of Islam is perhaps the best-known of them. In his 1965 book, Message to the Blackman in America, Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad writes often of slave names. Some of his comments include:
The black nationalist US Organization also advocates for African-Americans to change their slave names and adopt African names.
Irish singer Sinéad O'Connor stated in 2017 that she had changed her legal name to Magda Davitt, saying in an interview that she wished to be "free of the patriarchal slave names." On her conversion to Islam in 2018, she adopted the Muslim name Shuhada' Sadaqat.