Jamaican Family Search Genealogy Research Library
JAMAICAN SURNAME ORIGINS
The diversity of Jamaica's people and their surnames is reflected in the island's Motto, "Out of Many One People." The inhabitants of Jamaica came from many different countries.
In 1655 the English, under the command of William Penn and Robert Venables, captured Jamaica from the Spanish who had had possession of the island from the time of its discovery by Christopher Columbus (Cristobal Colon) in 1494. Some of those who sailed with Penn and Venables remained in Jamaica (see the list at Penn and Venables). To encourage settlers to go to Jamaica to populate and develop the island, land grants and incentives were given. Gradually the population of white inhabitants increased, as others purchased land, and some established estates and plantations. Emigrants went to the island to work on the estates as overseers or bookkeepers. British soldiers were stationed on the island to protect it from invaders, and some of the soldiers remained as residents. Governors and other officials, and workers in the Government Service were sent to the island. Merchants, sailors, clergy and people in other professions immigrated to the island. Some were sent to the island as indentured servants. Others were prisoners who were sentenced to transportation to the island. The British surnames of all these people represent the bulk of the surnames found in Jamaica.
It is strongly suggested that you VIEW THE SITE INDEX of this website. Using the Search table at the bottom of any page, insert any surname. You will get the Result of your Query. Below the list of the occurrences of that surname, the offer is made to "consult the site index." Click on that link. In viewing the Index you will notice that there may be several variant spellings of any given name. You should click on each of those, and not just limit yourself to "the way your family has always spelled the name." The fact is that the person recording the name would have written it down the way that he heard it. With the variety of accents involved, the spelling was certainly going to vary. In addition to that, most of the records did not involve the use of a typewriter or a printing press--either because they had not yet been invented, or because they were not used for writing in record books and registers. The subsequent interpretation of poor handwriting or faded ink could also lead to varying interpretations.
The grandson of Christopher Columbus (Cristobal Colon), Louis Colon received the title of Marquis of St. Iago de la Vega, a title which was inherited by Louis's sister Isabella Colon. She married a Portuguese nobleman of the house of Braganza, which later became the royal family of Portugal. This led to the settlement in Jamaica of many Portuguese, mostly merchants and traders, and some ship-builders. Many Spanish Jews had also fled from Spain to Portugal to escape the Inquisition. Their first settlement in Jamaica was in 1530. These conversos or crypto-Jews could not openly revert to Judaism without being punished. When the English occupied Jamaica in 1655 these settlers were already there. The Portuguese welcomed the English. It was the intention of Venables to make good subjects of the Portuguese, but to remove the Spaniards. There are records of some of them pledging allegiance to the English crown. Some of them reverted to Judaism. Their surnames will be seen among their descendants in Jamaica.
A Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue was founded in Kingston. It was later amalgamated with the English and German Synagogue in 1884 (see the Jewish records on this site).
In 1839 to 1841 indentured laborers were brought into Jamaica from Portugal, but not in large numbers.
The largest influx of French into Jamaica began in 1791 when problems broke out in Saint Domingue, the French part of the island of Hispaniola, equivalent of modern Haiti. Thousands of French people fled from Saint Domingue and arrived in Jamaica. For a list of some of these refugees or prisoners, see Other Lists of People. The names of these French families then figure largely in the early Roman Catholic records for Kingston (see Roman Catholic)
Over the years there were other French immigrants to Jamaica, who sailed directly from France to reside in many towns in the island.
The General Comment in the first section of this page, concerning the need to use the Site Index due to the variances in the spelling of names, becomes even more necessary here as non-French people tried to spell the French names.
In a further effort to increase the white population of the island, when the emancipation of slaves became imminent the government brought into the island settlers from Germany. For the most part they were located in the hinterland, to provide them land, and to see whether they could become integrated to the population. Seaford Town, (in Westmoreland) was established in 1836, followed by other German settlements. Many families were located in the Dry Harbour Mountains of St. Ann.
Other Germans were already part of the Jewish synagogue in Kingston, while still other migrated to Jamaica independently over the years.
Several Italians are identified as such in the nineteenth century Roman Catholic registers. Their place of origin in Italy is usually stated. Names of individual Italians are found in other records.
There are reference in nineteenth century Jamaican records to people from Sweden, Belgium, Holland, and other countries. There are probably many natives of other countries whose place of origin is not stated. They were evidently not part of any large migration, but they have left traces of their DNA in Jamaican descendants.
There are many references, particularly in Roman Catholic records, to people from Venezuela and Colombia, "the Spanish Main," Costa Rica, and Cuba, all of whom had Spanish surnames, and whose names are still found in Jamaica today. Many went to Jamaica as merchants and traders, or as manufacturers of cigars.
Many immigrants arrived in Jamaica from Curacao, during the nineteenth century when the control of the island switched more than once from one country to another.
During the eighteenth century, while trying to increase the number of white settlers in Jamaica, the government gave incentives to British subjects who had previously settled on other smaller Caribbean islands, particularly those of the Leeward Islands, to transfer to Jamaica. See Other Lists.
The native Jamaican Indian population, the Arawaks, were systematically killed by the Spanish sailors and settlers within a few years after their discovery of the island, during the early sixteenth century.
There are records of pirates capturing Indians on the Miskito Shore of Central America (now part of Nicaragua) and selling them as slaves in Jamaica. These pirates raids continued from the time the British took over in 1655, until 1741 when there was a regular establishment of British troops in the Miskito Territory.
Beginning in 1842 Indians were brought to Jamaica as indentured laborers, to replace the labor force lost after emancipation. These Indians had one name only. They did not have surnames. Those who were baptized into the Roman Catholic Church were usually given English names and surnames. Sometimes the same name (John Thomas, for example) would be given to several Indians who were baptized within a few consecutive days of each other.
Later immigrants were wealthier Indians who became merchants and businessmen on the island.
From 1800 to 1833 there were various discussions concerning replacing slave labor in the West Indian colonies with Chinese laborers. Chinese workers were eventually brought in. In the twentieth century there were also many political refugees from China residing in Jamaica.
In the mid-twentieth century Chinese became known as owners of bakeries, restaurants, and shops. Many others were business people in other spheres.
Other merchants and store-owners in Jamaica were from Syria and Lebanon. In addition to this, there were always immigrants from other countries who went to Jamaica for various reasons and settled there.
The slaves in Jamaica who were brought over from Africa each used only one name. They did not have surnames. The development of surnames for this group 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. 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. This will be evident by examining lists of slave baptisms and noting that there were many different surnames on any one estate. It will be noted that 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. The helpful baptismal records are those which contain both the old slave name and the new name.
Sometimes it is possible to find a document or a record on which a particular person was found listed with the old slave name, and then find a later document on which the same person is identified by the new name. The new name may include the surname of the white father, or it may be a chosen name.
At the time of emancipation, the government had produced a short list of surnames that slaves were to be allowed to take upon being emancipated. It is evident that the list was very largely ignored.
It should also be noted that currently (the year now being 2006), by law anyone in Jamaica can change their name to any name that they choose. Perhaps this is a law that has been on the books since emancipation, and perhaps not. It certainly is not a law that will aid people in later years who are trying to trace their genealogy!
For lists of surnames used in Jamaica, therefore, you can consult the Site Index. You can also consult any of the pages containing the transcriptions of names -- the Almanacs, Registers, Directories, Other Lists of Names, newspapers, monumental inscriptions, or any of the other pages on this site.
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