“African” Name Project

This blog area is the beginning of the online presence for “African”-surnames. As time and funding permits it will blossom into a full interactive website. For now, bear with me!

It has to do with families that go back to the trans-Atlantic slave trade and to this day, hold on to this vestige of Africa. Bobo, Congo, Cuffe (Kofi), Cumbo, Ebo (Ibo), Guinea, Mandingo, Mozingo, Quander, Senegal, and Wolfe (Wolof) are family names I am working with in the United States. Anybody familiar with Afro-Latin America–including Haiti and Brazil–knows that there are more than one hundred “African”-surnamed families in the Americas. Ask my co-investigators Professor Julio Tavares of the Universidade Federal Fluminense in Rio de Janeiro and Dean Darío Henao of the Universidad del Valle in Cali, Colombia. Dr. William Mina–note the last name–also of Colombia, is tremendously helpful with his sharing of first-hand knowledge. The Netherland Antilles, Suriname, the English-speaking Americas expand the family names even further.

This is an opportunity to share who and what you know about such “African” surnames. Write to me using this blog and let the world know what you know. If you want to remain anonymous, that’s ok.

“African” is always in quotation marks when I refer to the last names of people who have a surname that designates a place or an ethnic group. Slavers often guessed when they assumed where the African originated. Sometimes, it was the last point of departure, sometimes they were the enslaved of the African group who sold them to the Europeans. In some cases, the place of origin is certain, but more on that later. If you are a descendant of someone who survived the trans-Atlantic slave trade–or if you know someone with that background, I want to hear from you. Scroll to the bottom of the page and add your comments.


As my research develops, I realize that naming goes beyond an “African” last name and includes all manner of naming that black people have in common.


Do you know Pookie, Ray Ray and them? Are you Pookie (regardless of how you spell your name)? I bet Michelle and Barack can tell me about you, Pookie!

This section of my research deals with nicknames that are commonly used by black folk, but often unknown to other groups. The ones I know are mostly in the English-speaking part of the United States, but I want you to tell me about those in Afro-Latin America, all of the Afro-Caribbean, the English-speaking countries of this hemisphere and outside of the United States like Jamaica, Trinidad, and Guyana. Cudjoes, speak to me! Where is Suki from? ♪Awww, sooky, sooky now!♪ The Dutch-speaking countries and territories of the Americas surely have their own. Scroll to the bottom of the page and add your comments.

Adopted and Legally Changed Names

Of interest to me are the famous and not so famous who, starting in the 1960s made a conscious effort to change their name to one that would associate them with Africa. I have in mind Amiri Baraka, Aminata Shakur, Toni Cade Bambara, Pablo Yoruba Guzmán, Molefi Kete Asante, Kojo Nnamdi. Who else? Add your comments by scrolling to the bottom of the page and writing in the Comments Section.

There are other parts of my research that have to do with naming, but this is enough for now. Now, unless I pay a lot more money, I can’t control the adds that you see!


Captain, the Zapatista

I am a devoted Zapatista.  No, not of the Mexican Emiliano—although sometimes I wonder had I lived in Mexico during the period of the Mexican Revolution, would I have been a true soldadera?  I am a Zapatista because of the Afro-Colombian Manuel Zapata Olivella.  Naming conventions in the Spanish language are such that the first surname is that of the father and the second is that of the mother. Hence, my devotion as a Zapatista and not as an Olivellista. Despite 21st century earnest attempts to do away with gender bias in naming and other practices, legally this convention remains in place. 

Zapata (1920-2004) was one of my earliest mentors, and to be honest, my first intellectual crush!  Just to be clear, my mentor and later friend, was always the caballero.  From my first inklings of him in my undergraduate studies until now, he remains my favorite author.  Further, because of my participation in the Año Manuel Zapata Olivella (the 100Year Celebration of Zapata), it dawned on me that he aided greatly in shaping my career.  Like many Latin Americanists pursuing the doctorate, I focused on some of the authors and trends that appeared repeatedly in literary and cultural criticism.  It was not until my 1985 interview with him (Captain 1985), that my earnest pursuit of all things Zapata and the African Diaspora became my calling. 

Here are some of my interactions with this great man of letters.

Series of talks, interviews and colloguia during the Year of Zapata—all on the website: http://zapataolivella.univalle.edu.co/

  • Documentary Zapata El Gran Putas[1] by Marino Aguado: several appearances – https://vimeo.com/telepacifico/review/471476717/91f511580b
  • November 16, 2020:  Keynote Speech-“México tenía que ser” at the Mexican colloquium:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXFMV930bsE 
  • September 21, 2020: keynote speaker at the colloquium and on the subject of Manuel Zapata Olivella’s novel Hemingway, el cazador de la muerte
  • September 16, 2020: honored speaker and panelist at the Colombian colloquium el “Canto de la Diáspora Africana”
  • June 19, 2020: guest lecturer in the course by Dean Darío Henao at the Universidad del Valle, Cali Colombia and on the importance of MZO to Diaspora, Colombian, Latin American and world letters.

La cultura de la ficción en la obra de Manuel Zapata Olivella. Translation of 1993 book Univalle, Colombia.  2021

The Culture of Fiction in the Works of Manuel Zapata Olivella. University of Missouri Press. 1993

“Homenaje a Manuel Zapata Olivella”. October 2020. Palara. Issue 24: 1-2

“El legado intelectual de Manuel Zapata Olivella,” Revista de estudios colombianos. No. 37-38. Fall 2011:  30-34

Review of Manuel Zapata Olivella. un legado intercultural:  perspectiva intelectual, literaria y política de un afrocolombiano cosmopolita, William Mina Aragón, ed.. in Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos. Vol 41 #3:  678-679. 2017

“Hacia su habitación propia:  la mujer en Zapata.” Literatura colombiana del siglo XX.  Maria M. Jaramillo, et al, ed. Bogotá:  Ministerio de Cultura  2000:  147-167

“Manuel Zapata Olivella,” in Afropaedia, Henry Louis Gates and Anthony Appiah, eds. Perseus Press. 1999 also CD Rom Encarta Africana, February, 1999

“El espacio del tiempo en la novela, ‘Changó, el gran putas’” in Ensayos de literatura colombiana. Raymond L. Williams, ed.   Bogotá:  Plaza & Janes,    l985:157-163

“Reseña de la novela Changó, el gran putas,” Hispamérica, vol xiv #4l, September, l985:124-125

“Conversación con el Dr. Manuel Zapata Olivella,” Afro-Hispanic Review, vol iv #l, January, l985  225-32

Other Zapatistas

Fortunately, Zapatistas abound in this hemisphere and throughout the world. However, they appear to be shy, so I will begin tooting their horn. In addition to the visionary work of Dr. Henao Restrepo at Universidad del Valle, Cali Colombia ( http://zapataolivella.univalle.edu.co/ ) , one finds

  • The Manuel Zapata Olivella collection at Vanderbilt University and spearheaded by Dr. William Luis:  https://mzo.library.vanderbilt.edu/
  • Special Issue on Manuel Zapata Olivella. (Fall, 2020). Palara. No 24. In addition, critics often write about Zapata in other issues of the journal.
  • Special issue on Manuel Zapata Olivella. (2001). Afro-Hispanic Review, #20:1 In addition, critics often write about Zapata in other issues of the journal.
  • Mina Aragón, William. (2014) Manuel Zapata Olivella, un legado intercultural.  perspectiva intelectual, literaria y política de un afrocolombiano cosmopolita. Fundación Universitaria de Popayán (FUP). Ediciones Desde abajo. Colombia
  • Muñera Cavadía, Alfonso, presentador. (2017). Manuel Zapata Olivella al encuentro con la diaspora:  memorias, 17-18 de mayo. Editorial Delfín. Bogotá, Colombia
  • Palacios, George. (2020). Manuel Zapata Olivella (1920-2004). Pensador político, radical y hereje de la diáspora africana en las Américas. Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (UPB) Colombia
  • Tillis, Antonio D. (2005). Manuel Zapata Olivella and the “Darkening” of Latin American Literature. University of Missouri Press.

FREE BOOKS. The Universidad del Valle is forging ahead with making all of Zapata’s works available. So far, here are the downloadable ebooks that you can get: http://zapataolivella.univalle.edu.co/obra/ The goal is not only to make all of his works available, but also to translate into Spanish some key works about him. Enjoy; I certainly am. Even though I already possessed his entire works, they are in different formats. Now, it is possible to boast of a beautiful collection.

Fortunately for all future Zapatistas, there are too many single essays and book chapters to include here. Most libraries can point you in the direction of those works, not to mention the bibliography of the books I cite above. There will be more Zapatistas added to this list. In the meantime, don’t wait until you get the shout out; drop me a line, and tell me about your Zapatista activities. See comment section below.

[1] The title of the documentary is a play on the title of his greatest work, Changó, el gran putas, translated into English by Jonathan Tittler as Changó, the Biggest Badass. Because of Zapata’s answer to my question regarding the title of the novel in my 1985 interview with him, it behooves me to be as irreverent as I think he would want me to be.  My translation of the documentary’s title is “Zapata the Holy Mother Fucker’. ‘Nuf said.

In the Name of Religion?

Candomblé, Umbanda and other religious practices are the pride of many Diaspora groups—whether the proud are Brazilian or not.  Yet, for some time a group of Brazilian evangelists spend their time attempting to destroy their very existence. These neo-evangelicals shut down temples, displace practitioners, and result to violence to get their way—participating in some of the very un-christian acts that they accuse the groups they attack to be involved in.  Some of these Pentecostals even refer to themselves as Jesus Drug dealers, believing in their right to make a living this way. Since the beginning of Africans’ sojourn in the Americas, certain religious orders of the Catholic church looked the other way while different African religious faiths combined their practices with those of Catholicism.  These current actions are not a case of trying to proselytize, but rather obliterate an entire culture.  There does not seem to be much difference between jihadist terrorists supposedly operating in the name of Allah and these people.  Funny that the boldness of the evangelical jihadists rose under the current president of that country.  It makes me wonder what the international Pentecostal church is doing about this.

Hard to believe?   Here are a few of the places where I got the info:  https://twitter.com/_doblues/status/1355411245936029699/photo/4


https://face2faceafrica.com/article/afro-brazilian-religions-under-attack-from-evangelical-religious-sects-who-expel-and-kill-members AND  https://theconversation.com/evangelical-gangs-in-rio-de-janeiro-wage-holy-war-on-afro-brazilian-faiths-128679 AND https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/soldiers-of-jesus-armed-neo-pentecostals-torment-brazils-religious-minorities/2019/12/08/fd74de6e-fff0-11e9-8501-2a7123a38c58_story.html AND https://harpers.org/archive/2020/02/my-gang-is-jesus-brazilian-evangelicals/

Do you know any individuals or groups who have been threatened or otherwise affected in any way by these people? If so, write about it below in the Reply section and share it with everyone.

21st Century Blackface

Will this “stuff” never end? Will people not of African descent ever understand how offensive and pro-violence the constant practice of blackface can be?

#blackfacenomore. I’m compiling a list of places where blackface still occurs on a ritual basis in many places around the world. I have an inkling of what is happening in Spain and Brazil. For now, this is just a list. As the sheer volume of instances occur, there will be a graphic display of where blackface occurs, the purported reasoning behind it, other details, and what we might do about it as a collective group. For now, please share what you know about blackface today.

This first example is about Alcoy Spain, but it happens all over the country, indeed the world. The online group afroféminas.com keeps us aware of the practice, and repeatedly protests it. There should be a concerted effort on the part of everyone who wants to end this. Read the eloquent piece by Elvira Swartch Lorenzo, a writer for Afroféminas and see the unbelievable photos: https://afrofeminas.com/2019/12/21/4-razones-porque-los-pajes-negros-de-alcoy-son-violencia/

It was bad enough when we caught today’s U.S. politicians with their actions of the past. Now, we still have to deal with this crap in the 21st century—and with the same pitiful excuses of the past—“It’s tradition!”

Thanks to Veronica Brown (https://twitter.com/Brown9501Brown), I know of this silly defense of blackface in a Brazilialn telenovela from the late 1960s: https://tvefamosos.uol.com.br/noticias/redacao/2020/06/27/blackface-e-humilhacoes-o-racismo-nas-telenovelas.htm

If there is anyone doing research on blackface, there is a world of material to deal with. Write your thoughts here to share with the world. Where have you seen it? What should we do about it? #blackfacenomore

Happenings related to blackface:

Global Blackface: A Symposium at @fhi_duke Friday Nov. 11 and Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022

Apparently, Spain doesn’t get the message! https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/blackface-controversy-hits-spain-s-three-kings-parade/ar-AA160xQm?ocid=entnewsntp&cvid=8c531fb348424f92bcbb8dc4f75e4f27

Share your opinions and what you know about the subject: