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An 'Allocated' Name : is it moralising or demoralising or of historical interest?

Skimming through the slaves buying and selling immaculately handwritten records were of immense interest for my own family ancestry research purposes, but excuse my impertinence, I tried to look for some ‘historical thread’ to make link with ‘forum’ authors names/surnames as see fit.

For the sake of debate, let me just zoom in on: Decotteau for namesake, different spellings, ie: DeCotteau, DeCoteau and DeCotteaux , [the Man of God, Curé Huguer, St Pierre de Gouyave, wrote it with one t, in the law records it is written as DeCoteaux! – I will stick with the man of God!]. The ‘family’ of slaveowners/purchasers DeCoteau or DeCotteau or DeCoteaux sold slaves to James Campbell in Charlotte Town in 1797. In 1770’s Alexander Campbell Snr/Jnr, ruled the ‘buying and selling of slaves’ in Charlotte Town, took a slave from Charlotte Town back to England, in 1787,got him educated at school, later Ottobar(real name) wrote his slavery experiences and was set free in 1788 by his owner, I wonder if Campbell got him back to Adjumako or if he returned with him to Gouyave! On a speculative note, I think that slave owner Francis Roy may have lived in Grand Roy!! The slave owner Clitander Clozier, the name speaks for itself, and L’Etang were selling and purchasing around St Georges!

Louison is listed as a given name for a slave – the record viewed does not show the name Louison as a slave owner or purchaser! Jean Fedon sold a few slaves to James Campbell including a slave named Louison. I spotted a John Honore /Alexander W Sween, slave owner/purchaser, the record also shows a Alexander McSween, - I think some of these characters were unscrupulously to conceal their own identity!

Some of the slaves names were of interest, as colourful as the names of Wooden buses: the slave register started off with all French names, only a first name is recorded for the slave (whereas the ‘listed’ purchasers/sellers [ eg John Hay or Pierre St Bernard] full names are recorded) . For example, here are some of the listed slave names: Calais, Voltaire, Hippolite, Sambe, Congo, Agathe, Venus, Etienne, Anore, Honore, Louison, Lundi, Alberteau, Dauphin, Cudjoe, Jean Louis, Joseph - just as a matter of interest, I spotted a name Genevieve on the first forfeited slave list,she was sold by a slave owner named Mark Ferray; further in the listing, Genevieve and her child, sold by Francis Roy to James Campbell; then on her own again, sold to Alexander M Sween, then later in the records Louis Romaine Roy sold Genevieve with her now four children,to John Campbell Senior, (unsure if it the same person, but I have a feeling it is the same ‘slave’ – at least she kept her name!), other names include: Lucitte, Pierette, Desire, Justine - the list continues until France gives way to British rule, to more English sounding names, eg Robert, Betsy, Rachel, Jacqueline, Derby.

I spotted only one female slave buyer, Judith Dunn who purchased a female slave and her child in St Georges. As the French rules gave way to British rule, more British named slave owners: James Scott, John Stewart, John Hay, John Farrell, John Cox, Fraser Layfield, Alexander W Sween, seems to be the ‘big’ slave buyer in St Georges; followed by John Grant,and Patrick Purcel.

After exploring the records, my line of thoughts focused on, name changing or the taking on of a new identity - ethically is it good for morale, general well being and adaptation for a ‘new’ life journey? Does your surname really reflect who you are or psychologically and emotionally are people just carrying excess burdensome historical baggage? Should we all be given the opportunity to emancipate from our 'passed down' surname free of charge? I asked my daughter who is a precious blessing from the Heavenly Father,these questions, she looked at me and replied, "Shakespeare said, What's in a name?" So, a reflection from William Shakespeare: Quote: ‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy; thou art thyself though, not a Montague. What’s a Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any other part Belonging to a man. O! be some other name: What’s in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet, unquote.(Romeo and Juliet Act II Scene II) – is that the answer to my questions or not?

Holy Father, help us to remember that the Name of Jesus is above every Name, help us to remember that you sent your Son Jesus to set us free, as it is written in your Word…“Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome." Amen and Praise the Lord, we have overcome.

Re: An 'Allocated' Name : is it moralising or demoralising or of historical interest?

Lady G, you asked,

"An allocated' Name : is it moralising or demoralising or of historical interest?"

In my humble opinion, it should be of no interest or bear no moralizing, demoralizing or be of any historical significance to the individual. His genealogical blue print together with his God given talent of applying himself and his character bears more heavily on his identity than his name could ever be. It is for this reason why a former slave "name" like a Louison or a DeCoteau or a Genevieve or any other can use his/her talent and be more prosperous than those bearing the names of former slave masters/sellers.

You see Lady G, slavery was just part of a basic economic model consisting of Land, Labor and Capital, with slaves satisfying one third of that model. What is interesting is, once this arm of the model ceased to exist, the slave names become the competitor against the spoils of slavery, "money" reducing the significance of the name ever further.

So with time, the question begs to be asked,

Does DeCoteau or Genevieve the Doctor become more demoralizing than the Campbell or McIntyre with no ambition?

"Name doh mean nutten, but ah woodah prefer Khunta-kinte and for you, Khunta-kintessa and who would have hired us?

VJ Louison

Re: An 'Allocated' Name : is it moralising or demoralising or of historical interest?

A pleasant good day to you, Genevieve.

As you might have noticed, I do not normally respond to your posts because your and my focuses are fundamentally different. That has led me before to some unnecessary entanglements that I've now sworn off. But your recent post has certainly caught my interest, hence what follows.

I don't know if I should say thanks for your expose of the name DeCoteau, as well as the other surnames, or just dismiss it as blasé. Whichever it is, you've done quite an in-depth study to get the deserved praises from all of us. I hope it is in preparation for your dissertation at whichever level. So congrats in advance!!!

You asked >>Does your surname really reflect who you are or psychologically and emotionally are people just carrying excess burdensome historical baggage?<<

I've pondered over that same question, though not as eloquently as you, many, many times before. Should we as the descendants of a people who were once slaves, glorify in surnames that were either given to us, or taken on by us? Names like DeCoteau, Louison, James, Jourdaine, DeRiggs, Campbell, Steele, and get mad at folks who pronounce them incorrectly!!
That's a critical question despite your daughter's admonition that a name is just a name. I contend it is far more than just a name. I believe it is basic to our understanding of whom we are; yes a definition of ourselves. I'll argue that it is the connecting link between us and our understanding of what we are all about. As simplistic as it may seem, I think that without that connection we will forever be the lost people that we are, who can never determine whether we should be Black, African-American, American or what ever other epithet we use to define ourselves.
That's why it was imperative as was shown in ROOTS, for the master to go to the extreme to forever wipe out the name Kinta Kunte and replace it with Toby. It was to deliberately place the slave in a psychological and cultural malaise when it came to his identity. The slave was no longer the proud African Kinta Kunte because it was gut-wrenchingly wiped out of him; but neither was he an American Toby because it was made clear that he was not, and could never be one of them. In fact he was made to believe that he was nothing more than mere chattel that could be used and abused at the whim and fancy of the master! (See the movie "Twelve Years a Slave.")

That has been the beginning of and the continuing dilemma in which we Black people have found ourselves and have been struggling ever since for an answer. Until we are able to resolve that dilemma and get out of it, we'll always be messed up and continue living in mental slavery regardless of how much education we pursue. Ask Malcolm X!

My take.

Re: An 'Allocated' Name : is it moralising or demoralising or of historical interest?


Lady G's post, aside from the complexities and derogatories of the human elements associated with it reminds me of the early discussions we had here regarding the use of sobriquet to hide our identity. You may recall my position at the time was and still remains that it hardly mattered, in that it does not add or deminish the contents of the post or the poster. To me, it is in the same manner that a Surname/slave name has no bearing on the individual.

Ask yourself, would we have been a different individuals if our last names was Smith or Joseph or Mitchell?

Now do you see the insignificance of providing an enema to the bowels of History in this case other than to satisfy one's curiosity?

I wonder just what was learned in this endeavour?

Maybe we all should challenge History to tell us what our real last names are.

Any takers?

Re: An 'Allocated' Name : is it moralising or demoralising or of historical interest?

Firstly on a light note, if you don't attach much significance to a name, see the amount of confusion a name has caused. Read my post "Smell the roses" to see the case of the famous Olympic skier Picabo Street (pronounced Peek-a-boo) (lol).

Verne, my friend, I don't know how you could even think of equating a sobriquet deliberately used by SOMEONE to hide HIS/HER identity, to a wholesale determined effort by OTHERS to brutally wipe out a PEOPLE'S identity. The obvious difference is that you yourself chose your own sobriquet. It was not forced upon you by anyone. What Sparrow does and who he is are two separate things. That's why the surname of his children is Francisco, not the Mighty Sparrow as the sobriquet he uses in the calypso world.

Have you ever wondered why is it so important for a child to know and carry his father's name? Why is a father as well as a mother so important in the lives of their children?
Verne, I think it's the connection it makes to give the child a base and an understanding of his identity and appreciation of whom he/she is. Now that's not to say that a child deprived of those basics cannot grow up to be an outstanding adult. Sure he/she can as is evidenced by many adopted children, but admitting that in no way belittles the importance of a biological father and mother. And btw, have you noticed the confusion that sometimes result when an adopted child starts asking his adopted parents why doesn't he/she look like them? That's the importance I am talking about. A child needs to know his real identity. What he/she does after having that knowledge is all up to them.

I believe that the same is true for a race who have been deliberately cut off from their origins. Imagine the multiple problems and neurosis may I add, for those folks who have very little or no idea of their origins while their "adopted parents" treat them as though they are parasites and the worst thing that God could have created.
Verne that's the significance of Alex Haley's ROOTS. That's why it received so much popularity and acclaim. It was like an awakening for "cast-away" Black people who suddenly discovered that they had a real live connection beyond the Western World. That's why the 1960's saw a flourishing of the popular "Afro" and other fads as Black people tried to give their own definition to who they are on their own terms as distinctly different from what White people said they are. They were giving themselves an identity, or a name if you will!
Man, the civil rights movement and the other tumultuous events of the sixties and seventies cannot be understood in their true perspective without recognizing what was at the heart of it even though many things went awry. It's too bad that "the onward always, backward never" movement seems to have stopped dead in its tracks. That's why we still have a long, long way in discovering who we really are.

A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet, wrote Shakespeare. While that might be true for inanimate objects etcetra, it cannot hold for a living people's understanding of their real identity, or name. After all people are human beings not things.

My take.

Re: An 'Allocated' Name : is it moralising or demoralising or of historical interest?


This topic seems to be giving you some trouble boi, because I cannot comprehend why you are failing to see the limited significance of our "assigned names".

Bro, whether it is Hailey, DeCoteau, Smith or Louison, if we were not biologically linked to our slave owners/masters, then our assigned names (keeping it in the context of Lady G's research) were only a designation (could well have been a number) to orderly mark the beginning or trace the movement of us... " as property" through the economic chain. This designation my friend today, allow us to trace our ancestors up to the point when the names were assigned but cannot bear any significance after that as it was not necessary to keep any records of our African names.

Alex Hailey's "Roots" was masterfully named as the branches of his family tree were laden with fruits of Hailey ; appropriately or inappropriately named. But how could you or I or even Alex lay claim to an identity that does no bear any semblance of any biological/genealogical linkage to our being (remembering it is the roots, not the branches) and claim it as our own?

How then can we embrace the Lilly White DeCoteau's and Louison's of France or the British Smith's and Campbell's as being related to us when in fact our only commonality is that of our last names?

Can you make that case?

Now revisiting my initial contention, is it not safe to conclude that I could have been a Campbell or a DeCoteau or a Smith and so could have you? and if so, would we not have taken our physical and biological characteristics, making us who we are as being determined by our African ancestors rather than our last names as designated by our slave masters?

Do you now see the limited importance of our claim to that designation?


Is it not that same designation practice we use today to "Pigeon hole" individials?

My friend, "a rose by any other name is equivalent to a slave by any other name and to the extent that the rose would retain its aroma by any other name , is to the same extent that the slave would retain his true identy by any other name.

So what's about the name that is so important again?

VJ Louison or # 57414

Re: An 'Allocated' Name : is it moralising or demoralising or of historical interest?

Verne, you asked >>So what's about the name that is so important again?<<

That's where you and I differ.

In my initial response to the topic, I wrote:
>> .... despite your (that's Genevieve) daughter's admonition that a name is just a name. I contend it is far more than just a name. I believe it is basic to our understanding of whom we are; yes a definition of ourselves.<<
My position has not changed since.

Directly addressing the question asked in the topic, my answer is categorically yes it is demoralizing and confusing. Many of us are suffering from the realization that our names do not reflect our real origins. That's why Malcolm dropped Little and had it replaced by X. Many other African Americans likewise have dropped their European names and adopted African names in their place.
My ancestors too have taken on the slave master's name without they ever knowing what their real original name was. It would not have mattered that much if this was a case of a loving adoption. But as the intent was to completely disassociate us forever from our original stock, to make us feel as though we had nothing, and never had a beginning, I do find it downright insulting and criminal. What's my real last name? I haven't the slightest clue, but I do know that it could never have been DeCoteau since France is not a part of the African continent. Who knows, my last name might well have been Bempa, Zirimenya, Anan, Mandella, Nkrumah, Osakwi, even Obama or whatever other African last name. Instead my forefathers took DeCoteau as though they were of French ancestry. I doubt very much that I have or they had even a little drop of French blood in them, unless there were cases of rape. I cannot tell you how many times white people have automatically assumed that I am able to speak French because of my name.

That so many of us Black folks have turned that misfortune into a positive, is tremendously admirable, and something to be proud of. Hence a Vivian and Vernon Louison who refused to allow the circumstances of their birth to deter them from becoming exemplary Gouyavemen; which incidentally is the real theme running throughout A PLACE CALLED GOUYAVE. So of course it mattered little what last name you Vernon has. You might have still risen to the top whether your last name was Mandela or Churchill or even Hitler. In that sense therefore I am in complete agreement with your point of >>the limited significance of our "assigned names"."
But that, my friend, refers to individuals or parts and not the whole race. In no way does it mean that the group in general were not affected. It's like saying since there were free African Americans during slavery it minimizes the devastating effects slavery had on Black people as a whole.

That's my real point which you are apparently failing to grasp in its totality. But I am guessing that you are coming real close to doing so when you asked >>How then can we embrace the Lilly White DeCoteau's and Louison's of France or the British Smith's and Campbell's as being related to us when in fact our only commonality is that of our last names?<<
Isn't that what I've been asking all along!!

Finally, I am joining you in asking Lady G to give her input on this topic. After all she started it, didn't she?

An 'Allocated' Name : is it moralising or demoralising or of historical interest?

Engaging in this 'allocated name' moral puzzle debate of complexities, about slaveowners passed down surnames to individuals to me has ethical and moral implications, for example, the name on a birth certificate should be the ‘correct’ name of the mother and/or father. So when does a ‘passed down’ name become legally valid for the purpose of certification? Legally how did it become the correct name to be included on legal documents? For argument sake, if my father was allocated the slaveowner surname ‘Ferray’ and my mother’s allocated slaveowner name ‘Goulard’, morally, why should my mother be known as Mrs Ferray? When not an ounce of Ferray’s blood might be flowing in my father’s veins?

Logically, with regard to pronunciation, the surname is not yours, it belongs to the slave-owner/purchaser or plantation owner, only he can pronounce his official inherited ‘full name’, the way it should be pronounced, not the person who it is ‘passed down’ to in ensuring appropriate pronunciation. So another question arises, when does a ‘passed down’ name becomes part of one’s own inheritance or heritage?

Following, the Shakespeare quote, 'what’s in a name?' The next day my daughter and I had another conversation, I told her that my maiden name was the name of a French slave owner/purchaser. She said nothing, but reminded me that Juliet, Ophelia, etc was names created by Shakespeare himself. I continued, that down the generations, (even up to the now) some Caribbean people have this ‘illusory effect’ or ‘naïve thinking’ based on their own ideology that because their surname is French, or Scottish, or English, whatever,… that somewhere down the generational line, they have French or British ‘family genetic’ underpinning connections. And for some people the surname, for argument sake, L’Etang, ends there – surname of slaveowner full stop. On the contrary, some people are quick to say, my so and so relative, two generations back, or whatever, was ‘mixed race’. That may be the case, the island had what was described as ‘French coloureds’, so I say, yes, fine, but because they had a surname, for argument sake, L’etang, it does not mean they may have blood connections, because even a ‘coloured’ slave may have the name L’etang, but his/her mother could have become impregnated by slaveowner eg ‘James Scott’ and then the resulting offspring at a later stage, sold to L’etang, and becomes the slave of L’etang. Of course, no one is denying for an instant, that this ‘mixed race’ person may have Caucasian blood running through their veins – but that may have been one of the game of slavery - selling/buying cycle – to ensure 'masquerading' change of slave 'surnames' to eradicate paternal or whatever responsibilities.

From my own ethical perspective, when the Emancipation Act was passed in 1834, the freed slaves, should have been given two optional rights, a) keep your slaveowner/plantation owner name, or b) select your own. An 1825 document from the island of Nevis, shows both the slave 'real' African name given next to their English name, eg Enebo - Tom; Abaraga - Joseph; Inguar - George. So, what is dismissive about using the name Enebo instead of Tom?

So 'what’s in a name', to me, the carrying of a slaveowner’s name, carries severe, infringing and hindering implications of loyalty to the dark, gloomy side of the country’s slavery past, with a seemingly lack of yearning or repudiation for complete emancipation from the slavery connection by the users of the names who even today never had the given opportunity to change ‘passed down’ names. For example, some people may not even know that Esprit L’etang was a slaveowner? Is the carrying of a slaveowners’ surname down the generation, a seemingly communal obligation for historical interest, which brings an unpleasant taste in the mouth of one ‘crying out in the wilderness’ with visionary beliefs for its total obscurity from our society? These surnames carries accountability and conjure up an imagery of narrative slavery moral equation which takes into account: suffering, cruelty, tears, torment, racism, robbery of individual voices, robbery of legal self identification, robbery of fundamental rights – that when the focus lens zooms in on the ‘allocation of a passed down name’ with nothing short of the demoralising associated evils of the constant reminder of the slave owners and purchasers surnames. In terms of historical interest, should folks continue to show their communal 'moralising' loyalty to Campbell, L'Etang, Roy, Clozier, Brissac, Ferray, Decotteau, LaTaste,Vincent, Gordon,Mandillon, McSween, Besson, Goulard, by ensuring correct pronunciation...or simply demoralising the 'allocated surnames' by complete and absolute deletion from our dysfunctional life jigsaw puzzle?

Lord, Thy will be done, for the living and the dead are in your Hands, in Jesus' name Amen.