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Note on the Name Juan and Other African-American Naming Patterns

During the 16th century, Juan was the most popular Christian male name. Those who had been baptized often chose or were given the popular name Juan. More than half of all conquistadors of African descent were named Juan. Just as there were Juan’s, there were also Juana’s. With respect to African naming patterns, a few things should be kept in mind. For many new arrivals there was little choice with regards to names because their owners often chose their names. Chege Githiora tells us that bozales were often given names like Juan Nicolas Matamba, Juan Congo, Maria Cazanga who was the wife of Juan Biafara, Franciso Joloffo, and Francisco Cenque Cenque. In this way owners gave enslaved Africans Christian names and also identified where these people were believed to have originated from. As for Africans born in the Americas, they were given names by their parents who, especially if the child was of mixed racial descent, gave them Christian names familiar to Afro-Spanish communities. This naming trend became apparent toward the mid to late colonial period (Restall 2000:171–205).

The legacy of African influence can be felt through all of what used to be called Spanish America. In Mexico, for example, one can find beach pueblos like Mocambo, Mandinga, and Mozambique and places like El Cerro del Congo or Congo Hill and La Matamba—all of which represent African names and memories (Githiora 1994:1,4–5).

NPS Ethnography Program