Vol. 70 No. 3 (2022): Names: A Journal of Onomastics

In the Name of Freedom: A Corpus Linguistic Analysis of Personal Names Recorded in Fugitive Slave Advertisements Published in New York and New Jersey 18th Century Newspapers

I. M. Nick
American Name Society

Published 2022-08-22


  • fugitive slaves,
  • personal names,
  • US Revolutionary War,
  • corpus linguistics,
  • New York,
  • New Jersey
  • ...More


The ubiquitous image of the sprawling 19th century Southern plantation has meant that much of the research on US slave names has focused on regions below the mid-Atlantic (Desrochers 2002). The resulting lack of attention that has been given to other times and spaces has necessarily limited our collective understanding of slave naming patterns. The purpose of the current investigation is to help address this geo-temporal oversight. With that goal in mind, the present empirical study explores the naming patterns of fugitive slaves as advertised in newspapers published in New York and New Jersey between 1730 and 1790. Using the techniques of corpus linguistics, this investigation analyzed 147 runaway slave advertisements featuring 150 slave names. These onomastic exemplars comprised four name-types: first names, surnames, nicknames, and aliases. Onomastic patterns were identified using descriptive statistics as well chi-squared and Fisher’s exact tests. Special attention was paid to exploring the relationship between the runaways’ names and their reported age, gender, and racial classification. After a brief introduction to slavery in the New England colonies, this study presents the empirical results and compares them with previous findings on US slave names. The paper concludes with a discussion of the limitations and argues for more corpus-based research into slave names.


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