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Belcon, Bestiol, Cocosomb, Crétinois, Handouil, Macabre, Paresseux, Vondébil… [not always easy to translate but something meaning Handsomedumb, Bug, Darksex, Moronblack, Idiot, Macabre, Lazy, Gostupid) Some civil registrars showed frightening contempt when registering the 1848 freed men in the individual registers. Fortunately, not all of them have been given dubious, if not despicable, names. For example, I came across the surname Liberté, and today I am talking about surnames that in a way celebrate the abolition of slavery and the new status of freed men as citizens in 1848.
Registers of individuality and the principle of taking names
In 1848, after years of struggle and resistance, more or less 70,000 slaves from Martinique finally gained freedom. This change of status is accompanied by a » taking of a name « . Indeed, slaves were registered under a first name or a nickname and a number. In the aftermath of the abolition, the new freed men were therefore invited to register a family name in the individual registers. I had met a freed woman named Liberté. So I wondered if any other names had been chosen or given in connection with the abolition of slavery.
The methodology moment…
To find the names, I tried 2 approaches. List names of people involved in the anti-slavery cause or the abolition of slavery from the articles on Wikipedia and test them in the BNPM. Searching lists of names of freedmen from two books: that of Durand and especially Non nou, super work of the CM98 association, to see if names or their derivatives related to the theme appeared.
I might as well tell you that my list is incomplete and that it has not been an easy task. 357 pages just in Non nou… I didn’t find the time to read the last third of the book. And above all, officers often played with words; names are rarely written in their original form, there are several subtleties in anagrams :
- reverse writing on the principle of anacyclic words : Lamartine–> Enitramal
- the syllable mixture: Lamartine –> Marlatine
- moving a letter: Libre–> Liber
Sometimes we meet too:
- homophony: Arago –> Aragaut
- deleting a letter : Schoelcher –> Scoelcher
- the replacement of a letter : Liberty –> Liberti
- the reversal of a letter : Montesquieu –> Montesquien
And I’m just talking about the mechanisms encountered in this post; there are others. But let’s get to the heart of the matter: the names assigned. By the way: name given or name chosen?
Freedmen or civil registrar: who chooses the name?
There is no method to be sure of who is at the origin of the family name between the freedman who presents himself in the town hall or the civil registrar who receives him and registers the name. In some cases, especially for offensive names, doubt is not allowed. Given the number of word games used, it is highly likely that officers often chose names. But I refuse to think that all slaves would have been too stupid or uneducated not to know some of the great names referring to mythology, literature or famous historical figures. When the choice of a name is made on that of the former master or a first name which can be that of the parent, it is quite possible that the choice comes under the new free. Finally for names of African origin, we can think that some freedmen came with a very clear idea of the name they wanted to have. For what interests us in this post, I will rather lean for a choice of the officer, but without certainty.
Names celebrating 18th-century anti-slaveryists
Montesquieu: In 1748, in a famous satirical extract on slavery taken from De l’esprit des Lois, he derided the justifications of the defenders of slavery.
At Le Marigot in 1849, Félix, 79, son of the late Rachel, took the name Montesquien.
Chevalier de Jaucourt : In 1755, he wrote the articles « slavery » and « slave trade » (calling for its abolition) in the Encyclopedia.
At Le Carbet in 1848 and 1849, 5 members of the same family took the name of Jaucourt: Rose, 65, her daughters Claire Marie 30 and Marguerite Rose, 28, her 2 grandsons, André 4, Jean Louis 4.
Benjamin Franklin : supporter of the abolition of slavery, he published in 1751 Observations of the increase of Mankind in which he argued that slavery weakened the country that practised it and freed its slaves as early as 1772.
In Gros Morne in 1848, Jean 25 years born in Africa took the name of Kranflin.
Mirabeau: one of the founders of the Black Friends Society in 1788.
At Sainte-Anne in 1849, Neptune, 53, born in Africa, took the name Mirabeau.
Names celebrating 19th-century anti-slavery and abolitionists
Alexis de Tocqueville : If he legitimized French colonial expansion, he defended the abolition of slavery in the colonies (1839).
In Fort-de-France in 1848, Lucette, 36, born in Africa, took the name of Ocqueville.
Victor Schœlcher : Do we really need to present it? Among other things, he was behind the abolition decree of 27 April 1848.
In Fort-de-France in 1848, Marie Victoire 70 years old and her daughter Louise 31 years old took the name of Scoelcher. In Gros Morne in 1849, Virginia 33 years old, took the name of Schoelfer.
Alphonse de Lamartine : Less associated with the anti-slavery struggle than Victor Schœlcher, he was nevertheless one of the founders of the French society for the abolition of slavery and signed the decree of 27 April 1848 abolishing slavery. Given to 8 people, it is thus the most popular of this list of person names.
In 1849, in Le François, Pierre 62 years old took the name of Marlatine. At Rivière-Pilote in 1848, Nestor, 25, took the name Amartine. At Gros-Morne in 1849, Avrillette, 44, born in Africa, his sons Émile, 11, and Pierre Leu, 9, born in the commune, took the name of Malartine. In Gros Morne in 1849, Clarisse, 26, and her 2 children Félicité, 5, Aimée, 3, took the name Enitramal.
Auguste-François Perrinon : He was a member of the commission for the abolition of slavery and became commissioner general in Martinique in 1848.
At Gros Morne in 1849, Daniel 27 years born in Africa took the name of Ronipert. Chery, 27, and her mother Adelaide, 46, took the name Nonirep. Glaudine, born in Africa, mother of Adelaide and therefore grandmother of Chery, waited until 1856 to take her name; she was then 80 years old.
François Arago and Louis-Antoine Garnier-Pagès : On May 10, 1848, the provisional government was replaced by an executive board. Lamartine then sat among others with Arago and Garnier-Pagès.
At Gros Morne in 1849, Thélise, 27, and her 3 children Martial Faust, 10, Pierre, 4, and Marie Élisabeth, 18 months, took the name Ogara. In Trinité in 1855, Florentine, 58, took the name Aragaut. In Gros Morne in 1849, Antonia, 20, and her two children Marie Anastasie, 2, and Amante, 3, took the name Segap.
The abolition of slavery in 1848 through the words: bulletin, citizen, freedom…
Bulletin [Ballot paper]: If this name can lend to smile, it nevertheless shows all the importance of the taking of the name: the right for the new citizens (man) to vote, the male universal suffrage having been adopted in March 1848. In Gros Morne in 1849, Valentin 19 years old and Felix 17 years old, son of the late Zélie, took the name of Nitellub.
Citoyen [Citizen]: With the adoption of the Constitution in November 1848, the notion of citizenship and the rights and duties of citizens became particularly important. In Gros Morne in 1849, Alphonsine 13 years born in Ducos, took the name of Neyotic. At Rivière-Pilote in 1849, Cora, 17 years old, took the name of Enneyotic.
Liberté [Freedom]: in Macouba in 1849, Alexis, 19, son of the late Blandine, took the name of étrébil, just as Aline, 46, born in Africa, his sons Vincent Alphonse, 13, and Paul Alfred, 9, born in Gros Morne, did in 1851. At Le Robert in 1849, Rose 47, her 4 children Rosa, 26, Saint-Prix, 22, Marie, 20 and Jacobine, 9, took the name Liberti. Same place same year, 2 sisters Louisia, 26, and Suzette, 19, as well as Felicia, 4, daughter of the latter, took the name Liberty. In Trinité in 1861, Marie Ludgerie, 16, daughter of the late Reinette Liberty, also took this name. I did not find the taking name for Reinette, but I indeed find her death in 1858 (act n° 181 – Trinité).
Libre [Free]: They are also numerous those whos took the name of Liber. Liber can refer to the god of growth and fecundity, it is also called in his first name, but it is difficult not to see the anagram of free. In Le François in 1849, Lubin 58 years old and Clarice 50 years old, both born in Africa, but not necessarily related took the name of Liber just as Maximin Belhomme, 40 years old. In Lorrain in 1849, they were 10 members of the same family to take this name: Clémentine, 36 years old, and her 4 children Eulalie, 18 years old, Catherine, 16 years old, Maxime 10 years old, Rosie, 8 years old, but also Louisia, 8 months old, daughter of Eulalie, Marceline 33 years old sister of Clémentine and her 3 children Véronique, 13 years old, Jean Baptiste, 11 years old, and Jean de Dieu, 9 years old.
Remerci [thanks]: Finally, in Le François in 1848, Augustin, 50, born in Africa, took the name Cimerer.
Bonus: resistance against persistent chains
Here is a small panorama of the family names which in the day after the abolition of slavery in Martinique celebrated the event. We see it, for the historical figures, it is mainly intellectuals of the 18th century and politicians of 1848 who are used. On the « values » side, we find essentially the reference to freedom, as opposed to the servitude that I was surprised to encounter through the name Serville. In 1849 in Le François, Eusébie 56 years old and his daughter Judith Francillette 32 years old thus took the name of Serville. I also found several variations of the bond to servitude (Serval, Servant, Servilos, Servilius, Servius…).
Finally, I spoke to you about the celebration of abolition, but in the end I also wanted to share the celebration of resistance, at least I see it as such. I met at Le Carbet two men whose family name is that of Jean–Jacques Dessalines, also a former slave, hero of the Haitian revolution, who proclaimed himself emperor of Haiti in 1804. It is Gilbert 35 years old who took the name of Dessaline and Jacques 43 years old under the Désalline graphic.
Do you know any other surnames taken by the freedmen of 1848 who celebrate abolition? Have you found your name or that of your ancestors among the registers of individuality?
A big thank you to Olivier for his message, following my talk on Martinique première radio on April 30th, I cannot answer for lack of a valid email address. 😉 Hello also to Alychouette: here are sources available online. 😉
(French) Online data: to find the name of an ancestor freed in 1848 in Guadeloupe or Martinique, you can do it from Anchoukag the CM98 site. For Martinique, there is also this person search interface or you can go directly to the home page of the digital bank of Martinique’s heritage which has the advantage of giving direct access to the archives.
CM98, Non nou le livre des noms de familles martiniquaises, 2013.
Durand (Guillaume), Les noms de famille de la population martiniquaise d’ascendance servile, 2011.