Do we really have Jamaican surnames though?
The truth is, it is probably not possible to identify a truly "Jamaican" name.
The surnames here are a reflection of the diversity of our people, testified in our island's Motto, "Out of Many One People".
Having said that, it is worth noting that although over 90% of our fore-parents were African descendants, most of us acquired European or Asian surnames! So how was that? How did that happen?
Well, according to JFS, the slaves in Jamaica who were brought over from Africa each used only one name, they did not have surnames. So the development of surnames followed one of two paths:
- Many of the bookkeepers or overseers who had been brought over from Great Britain to work on the sugar estates were single men. Some of them developed a long-term relationship with one of the female slaves, while others were more promiscuous.
The result was the birth of mulatto, quadroon, or mustee (mestee) children. All children of a female slave were automatically slaves, considered as belonging to the owner of the mother. If the white man was the slave owner, the child was sometimes declared to be free at the time of infant baptism.
If the father was not the owner of the slave, he could buy the child's freedom, or at other times, money was left in the Will of the white parent to pay for the manumission of the child. These children were given the surname of the white parent.
- Other slaves, who were of full Negro blood, when baptized were sometimes given surnames.
It was not the custom in Jamaica to automatically give the slave the surname of the owner, and certainly not to give the slave the name of the estate. Slaves chose, adopted, or were given at baptism, various surnames.
Some chose the name of the property owner, or perhaps of a bookkeeper, or some merely chose the name of someone who they liked, or who had been good to them, or who was famous. It is said that some old baptismal records contains both the old slave name and the new name.
Here is a list of what I consider to be the top 30 most popular surnames in Jamaica!
Notice the ones in bold [Smith,Williams & Clarke], they have to stand out.
I have no reference but from my own estimation, those three probably account for over 20% of the entire island- seriously, no kidding!
Of course my own name, Gayle, is quite popular too, but certainly not popular enough to make the top 30. :-)
Still, lots to share with you from Jamaica, don't miss these informative pages:
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