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A slave name is the personal name given by others to an enslaved person, or a name inherited from enslaved ancestors. Modern use of the term applies mostly to African-Americans and West Indians descended from enslaved Africans who retain the name given to their ancestors by the enslavers.
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In Rome slaves were given a single name by their owner. A slave who was freed might keep his or her slave name and adopt the former owner's name as a praenomen and nomen. As an example, one historian says that "a man named Publius Larcius freed a male slave named Nicia, who was then called Publius Larcius Nicia."
A number of African-Americans and Jamaican Americans have changed their names out of the belief that the names they were given at birth were slave names. An individual's name change often coincides with a religious conversion (Muhammad Ali changed his name from Cassius Clay, Malcolm X from Malcolm Little, and Louis Farrakhan changed his from Louis Eugene Walcott, for example) or involvement with the black nationalist movement (e.g., Amiri Baraka and Assata Shakur).
Some organizations encourage African-Americans to abandon their slave names. The Nation of Islam is perhaps the best-known of them. In his book, Message to the Blackman in America, Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad writes often of slave names. Some of his comments include:
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