A person’s surname can reveal a lot of information about them, particularly their ethnicity or ancestry—but it’s not always safe to assume that you know who someone is because of their last name. Plenty of folks get their name from marriage; others take the name of their adoptive family. Some people make up their name out of whole cloth, in a symbolic rejection of their origin.
The act of naming oneself is powerful, and there is perhaps no demographic that has made better use of that power than African-Americans.
What’s In An African-American’s Name?
Just as European immigrants’ names would later be changed by officials at Ellis Island, Africans brought to the U.S. as slaves were generally stripped of their names and given the surname of their oppressor. These were often English names but could also be from other European countries.
Unsurprisingly, one of the first things an emancipated slave would do is change their last name. Often, they took the name Freeman or Freedman to reflect their new status. Others would revert to their mother or father’s names if they knew what their parents were called. Still, others chose to keep their enslaver’s name to maintain the connection with other former slaves, with whom they had forged incredible bonds.
The Most Popular African-American Names Today
Today, the most common names of African-Americans still reflect those English surnames. The top five surnames remain Williams, Johnson, Smith, Jones, and Brown. Other popular names include Davis, Jackson, Robinson, Washington, and Harris. For folks who have never considered how many Black people share a relatively small number of family names, it can be a surprise to realize just how many Jacksons, Johnsons, and Browns there are.
Common Names Lead to Uncommon Problems
Particularly if a person also has a common first name, such as Mary, John, Robert, Susan, or Michael, folks with these last names often meet others with the exact same name. It’s usually easy enough to distinguish themselves, though, using variations of their first name, middle initial, or even nicknames that arise from their personality or profession.
But you can’t use a nickname like “Brooklyn,” “Doc,” or “Red” on bank accounts, leases, credit cards, and tax documents. And when two people’s identical or even similar names lead to mix-ups in important documentation like a credit report, it can become a nightmare.
Mixed-file credit errors occur when someone mistakes one Michael A. Brown for another Michael A. Brown, and their information gets jumbled up by the three credit agencies. It will likely take a lot of time to separate the information and correct inaccuracies caused by the mixed files.
If you meet yourself coming and going, go over your credit reports with a fine-toothed comb, looking for any discrepancies or unfamiliar data. That can be a sign that your files have been mixed up with another person.
You don’t have to untangle it all alone, though. The Credit Report Law Group is an invaluable ally to people in this situation; Attorney Adam Singer specializes in mixed-file errors and can help you not only restore your accurate credit report but may also be able to secure compensation for your trouble and expenses. Call them today at 212-842-2428.