I'm curious to know how the names of African slaves in the US changed from that of traditional names used by their tribes eventually to their modern, (mostly Christian) names. In other words, how did something like Kunta Kinte become say, Kevin King? Was this "christianisation" mandated by their conversion to Christianity? Was it caused due to a disconnect from their native languages and cultures?

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    There was a substantial difference in the cultural disruptions associated with chattel slavery from Africa and with indentured labour from India. – Henry Oct 11 '12 at 21:29
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    @coleopterist: I think it's as simple as the fact that when they were brought over, their owners and indeed proselytisers gave them Christian names for the sake of conversion, ease of remembrance & pronunciation, and whatnot. 2nd and 3rd generations of African slaves may not have even had names in their ancestral tongue, and quite possibly wouldn't be taught their that language. As to the surnames, these were simply assumed from the surname of their masters upon liberation. Very much in the same fashion as Ancient Roman manumission. – Noldorin Oct 12 '12 at 22:02
  • Kunta Kinte LOL, just FYI "Roots" is wall-to-wall BS, nothing in that book/movie is even remotely corresponding to reality. Kunta Kinte, don't make me laugh. – Tyler Durden Aug 14 '15 at 1:19

I'm kind of curious where you got this idea that USA slaves had Christianized African names. I've never heard it before, and it goes against just about everything I have heard about African-American slave names.

Certainly the first folks off the boat may have had their names Anglicised, but that's not that different from any other immigrant. For instance, I have a friend of Pakistani descent named Khurram who insists folks here call him "Kay". I have another friend from China whose name (the one time he showed it to me) looks like a big morass of H's, K's, and X's to me, who goes by "Hank".

Once here, slaves were just assigned names by their masters. Surnames were not used, as the important designator there was not any kind of family lineage. Who cares about a slave's family, when "families" could be split up on a whim? Instead, they were known by which white family owned them.

An important implication of this is that almost all surnames (from those descended patri-linearly from slaves) date from liberation or later. That often resulted in ex-slave families using the surname of their former master. Some didn't like the subservience that implied, and instead took on the last names of powerful ex-presidents, like Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson.

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    No. I tried to point this out (but perhaps not hard enough). Slaves generally just went by one name, and (when outside their master's lands) the name of their master, eg: "Fred Johnson's Jim". A proper surname implies the person has a family that is worthy of your note, and thus is really only for free men. – T.E.D. Oct 31 '12 at 18:18

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