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'Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn't choose it and I don't want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name - it means beloved of God, and I insist people use it when people speak to me and of me.'

As is well known, Cassius was originally an ancient Roman family name (), but Muhammad Ali, generally considered among the greatest heavyweights in the sport's history, recognized his name as a "slave name".

After some reflection, I began wondering whether naming slaves using names of Roman nobility was common. Was it?

If so, why did slave holders used to name their slaves with the name of the Roman gens?

If not, why did Muhammad Ali affirmed that his name was a "slave name"?

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Perhaps you realised this, but Cassius Clay was not actually born into slavery. His parents would have picked his first name. Its his last name that likely had it origins in the slave era. –  T.E.D. Aug 13 '13 at 19:06
Yes, as @T.E.D. points out this seems to be more of a modern political thing: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slave_name#African_Americans but if you can find more examples, then perhaps we'll have something to go on. –  Felix Goldberg Aug 13 '13 at 20:16
I have no references at the moment, but it seems likely that after being freed, former slaves and their descendants chose the names of patricians to emphasize that they were no longer slaves. If so, Mr. Ali may not have been correct - "Cassius" was actually very proud post-slavery name. –  user2590 Aug 13 '13 at 22:17
Please isolate a single question. The first and second questions have to do with the practice of slaveholders in pre-civil war America. The third question (about Mr. Ali) is answered by wikipedia and has nothing to do with the first two. –  Mark C. Wallace Aug 15 '13 at 11:10

1 Answer 1

I doubt this has any relevance to field slaves, but it might apply to house slaves.

It is worth remembering that many (possibly most) house slaves on large plantations were the half-siblings and cousins of the owners, as the offspring of the plantation patriarch and his black concubines. There was a distinct difference in treatment as these two types of slaves in essence occupied very different castes in the Southern U.S.

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"as the offspring of the plantation patriarch and his black concubines." If so, it's unlikely they would be advertising the fact by giving them special names.... –  user2590 Aug 14 '13 at 1:31
@Vector: Uh? It's not like it was a secret, it was completely normal (for the time). We have simply forgotten in the intervening 150 years. –  Pieter Geerkens Aug 14 '13 at 2:59
Could you add some references to support this answer? –  default locale Aug 15 '13 at 9:58
@PieterGeerkens, I'm not sure you are correct on this, and you are almost certainly wrong about the Federalist period. There is a reason why the Jefferson/Hemmings relationship was difficult to prove. –  Mark C. Wallace Aug 15 '13 at 11:12

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