Distinctively Black Names in the American Past

33 Pages Posted: 16 Feb 2013 Last revised: 18 May 2023

See all articles by Lisa D. Cook

Lisa D. Cook

Michigan State University - Department of Economics and James Madison College; NBER

Trevon Logan

Ohio State University; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

John Parman

College of William and Mary - Department of Economics

Date Written: February 2013

Abstract

We document the existence of a distinctive national naming pattern for African Americans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We use census records to identify a set of high-frequency names among African Americans that were unlikely to be held by whites. We confirm the distinctiveness of the names using over five million death certificates from Alabama, Illinois and North Carolina from the early twentieth century. The names we identify in the census records are similarly distinctive in these three independent data sources. Surprisingly, approximately the same percentage of African Americans had "black names" historically as they do today. No name that we identify as a historical black name, however, is a contemporary black name. The literature has assumed that black names are a product of the Civil Rights Movement, yet our results suggest that they are a long-standing cultural norm among African Americans. This is the first evidence that distinctively racialized names existed long before the Civil Rights Era, establishing a new fact in the historical literature.

Suggested Citation

Cook, Lisa D. and Logan, Trevon and Parman, John, Distinctively Black Names in the American Past (February 2013). NBER Working Paper No. w18802, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2219062

Lisa D. Cook (Contact Author)

Michigan State University - Department of Economics and James Madison College ( email )

South Case Hall
East Lansing, MI 48825-1205
United States

NBER ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
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Trevon Logan

Ohio State University ( email )

2100 Neil Avenue
Columbus, OH OH 43210
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

John Parman

College of William and Mary - Department of Economics ( email )

Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
United States

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