Vol. 59 No. 4 (2011)
Research Article

“May Change Name and Pretend to be Free”: A Corpus Linguistic Investigation of Surnames Adopted by Fugitive Slaves As Advertised in Colonial American Newspapers Between 1729 and 1818

Published 2011-12-01


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Traditionally, it has been assumed that the adoption of surnames among African Americans evolved from the simple emulation of onomastic norms common among European American slave owners. In recent years, however, careful analysis has revealed that this initial assumption may have been premature. The naming behaviour of early African American residents has shown itself to be an extremely complex phenomenon, one which goes far beyond mere imitation. While this emerging scholarship has been useful in pointing out directions, there has yet to be a systematic linguistic investigation of this population. The present investigation provides an empirical analysis of surnaming patterns among fugitive slaves as advertised in colonial American newspapers between 1729 and 1818.


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