“What’s in a name” Shakespeare asked. And, the American comedian W. C. Fields once said, “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.”

Names can often carry great import, especially in the collective. A name can designate you. Decide for you. Open doors, or close them even before one might even enter.

Black men were once called “boy,” no matter how old they were. No matter what their status was. “Boy” was their name, irregardless of what they may have been christened under.

Then in 1967, one movie brought into sharp focus the fight black people have had when it came to the importance of names chosen and thrust upon them.

There was that unforgettable moment from the movie, “In the Heat of the Night” with Bahamian-born, Oscar winning actor Sidney Poitier, and acting great Rod Steiger, when Steiger’s southern racist American policeman character asks black, northern American police detective, Poitier what do they call him back in Philadelphia.

This part of the movie comes after Virgil Tibbs, played by Poitier, has repeated confrontations with a racist police force over a murder case.

In the crucial scene, white Police Chief Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger) repeatedly disrespects Tibbs, who has made major advancements in the case. He repeatedly calls him by his first name over and over again as well as calling him boy.

To further insult Tibbs, Gillespie asks, “What do they call you [in Philadelphia]?” Poitier stands tall, looks Gillespie directly in the eye and says “They call me Mr. Tibbs.”

The line made cinematic history.

Black people, in the collective, since the Middle Passage, have carried the burden of many names thrust upon them. None of them were very nice. The infamous “N” word stuck longer than any other.

In 1888, Bahamian negroes were called Darkeys, among other things.

Names were given to those first few generations during slavery. When freedom came to the slaves, one of the first things negroes did, was to choose their own names. Let’s just say that sometimes they chose from the top shelf of monikers.

In the late 1800s, negroes embraced the full breadth of freedom by choosing names, which were different to say the least. Negro Princes, Princesses, Queens and Kings were suddenly running around barefoot in Grant’s Town. This did not go unnoticed.


Darkeys have always been notorious for the fondness for high sounding names. In America they are very apt to christen their children “George Washington.” In the Bahamas there are innumerable Prince of Wales’s, Prince Alberts, and Prince Alfred’s.

There is a man named Tiberius Granicus, a boy named Thaddeus de Warsaw Toot, and the sergeant Duke of Wellington, and they have now begun christening children “Randolph Churchill.”

It is a common practice to call children after the month or a day of the week which they were born or christened, as “March,” “July,” “Monday,” “Friday,” et cetera.

Scripture names are very common; so are names descriptive of a class, as “Evangelist;” and from some of the clergy we hear of parents who wished to have their children christened “Iniquity,” “Miserere Lizzy,” and “Solomon’s Porch.”

The surnames are all derived from the old planters, and are mostly Scottish.

(The Manchester Courier and Lancashire Advertiser, Saturday, July 21, 1888)