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Book source: What's in a name? Slavernij en Naamgeving in Suriname tijdens de 18e en 19e eeuw, Alex van Stipriaan, OSO, jaargang 9, Nummer 1, Juni 1990.

Subject: [History] All About Names


When a slave arrived in Suriname he was given only a firstname by the owner of the plantation. When a slave mother showed a newly born baby to the owner to ask him about a name for the baby the owner would often be annoyed or disinterested and he would answer "Mi no sabi", the reverse happened to that when the mother would answer "mi no sabi" (I don't know). Thus the name of the baby was Minosabi.

Names given to slaves can be placed in categories such as: Dutch, European, Biblical, African, day/month, historical and the odd. To give you a few examples: Dutch, European names: For males: Jan, Frederik, Fransisco, James, William. For females: Dorothea, Mary, Christina Names were concocted by male plantation owners/administrators and the females therefore often received flattery names. African names: Not always were slaves allowed to retain their African names. Most African names refer to the day or month of birth. Example a baby boy born on Sunday is named Kwasi, while a girl is named Kwasiba. A male baby born on Friday is named Kofi and a girl Afiba.

Names which appear frequent in Suriname are: Kofi, Kodjo, Kwakoe for males and Kwasiba, Akuba and Adjuba for females. There appear also muslim names such as Mustapha, Ali and Mahomet. Many odd names were given to male slaves such as : Cadet, Vaandrig, Majoor etc. or Bootsman, Paus, Kardinaal, Prins, Baron. Names that rever to money such as: Profijt, Winst are not uncomon as are names as Champagne or Bourgogne.

Most grotesque names given were such as: Matras, Kerkhof, Mooi Weer and Onkruid.

In the 19th century slaves got in addition to their given name a Christian name when baptized. For example a male slave was named Constant when he arrived in Suriname and when he was baptized in 1824 he got an additional name of Joshua. This person might think that he was Kofi or a Kwami, his original African name, but his owner would call him Constant and the missionary would call him Joshua.

In 1826, the "Burgelijke stand" (population register) was founded where all free citizens were registered with a first and last name while all slaves were registered with only a first name. From 1832 a special manumissie register was maintained where slaves whose freedom was purchased now received a family name. Before 1832 the words 'de vrije' (the free) was added before their name such as: 'de vrije Carolina'. Also the former owner or plantation were used to form names - examples: de vrije Marietje van Baak or de vrije Constantina van Daphina van Rocheteau.

When in 1832 the manumitted slaves needed a family name they were given a name by the person who bought their freedom and/or under whom's sponsorship he/she belonged. The 1832 family names were such that no family name could be used of a family living in Suriname nor the family name of the plantation owner. Sometimes names were constructed from the name of the plantation director such as Uhlenkamp with the name of the plantation Vossenburg. So he gave his concubine and his children the name of Uhlenburg.

Between 1832 and 1863 some 6300 free slaves received a family name. To cretae new family names of 40,000 slaves after 1863 became quite a task for the officials.

Patterns in names. Plantations in the District of Para were predominantly lumber plantations. Due to living conditions and the nature of work required the death rate was much lower than at other type plantations. The average of same names issued to related people in Suriname was 4 but in Para it was 12. Plantation La prosperite had 54 members of the name Pengel. At plantation Hanover there were 63 Klas family members. Almost 10% of the names in Para were related to trees such as: Lokus, Ceder, Bijlhout, Groenhart etc.

Slaves of the plantation La Prosperite all had names starting with P: Pieter, Pocornie, Pengel etc. Plantation Dordrecht named all slaves with Sij: Sijpenhof, Sijmeling etc. When emancipation arrived names issued were like: Koninggift, Koningswet, Koningvri etc. Others expressed disbelief and received names such as: Verassing, Nietgelooven, Dankhemel, dankbaar, Nooitmeer etc.

Finally slaves with certain physical characteristics got names such as: Baard, Kreupel, Gesond. Based on personal character others received names such as: Braaf, Vlijtig, Getrouw, Sukkel, Pummel. Around 1863 some 10,000 family names had to be created. One way was to use an existing name and reverse it to create a new family name in Suriname. Kramer - Remark Desse - Essed Amsterdam - Madretsma Muller - Rellum Gieter - Reteig Salmijn - Mijnals Leurs - Sleur Fortuin - Tuinfort

Or certain names were abreviated: Lionarens - Lionaar Labadie - Labad

Names constructed by combining two independent words: Stoomvliet, Dijksteel, Wijntuin. Existing words, Most names in this category find their originin in the former slave's first name: Vermicel, Gaslicht, Flesje, Kolenschop. names given based on geographical names: Leeuwarden, Cairo, Rusland. Names based on former plantations: Plantation Osembo became the name for the Obmeso family. Breukelerwaard - Family Breukel and Waard. Often something that made a plantation unique or was a reference point became a name. Zandweg, Zandrits, Seinpaal Names derived from nature: Muskiet, Vogel, Aardbei, Kers, Bush etc

Met dank aan Albert Buys

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