Are There Any White People Named 'Washington'?

I’ve noticed that while it is quite common for black people to have the last name ‘Washington’, I can’t think of a single Caucasian person who currently bears that particular name. Why is this the case?

Did African Americans with the name ‘Washington’ obtain their names from white slave-holders of the same name? If so, where did all of the white ‘Washingtons’ disappear to?


I dunno why you can’t think of any.

As for a single one, there’s the milk-white Jim Washington, who’s a sports broadcaster for Fox. There’s lots of white Bob Washingtons. I’m sure you can pick any other random given name and find plenty of white and black folks who have both it and the surname “Washington.”

You do ask some peculiar questions.

I may be spouting a bit of ignorant urban legend here, but I seem to remember reading somewhere that many freed slaves chose to adopt the names of presidents after the Civil War, and that’s where all the Washingtons and Jeffersons came from. It may be that this phenomenon (if it’s true) caused the name Washington to be statistically more prevalent among blacks than whites.

I do have to wonder, though, why I don’t hear of very many, if any, black Americans named Lincoln. If newly freed slaves were going to take the name of a president, you’d think that would be the one. It was a name that was pretty well despised in the south after the war, so maybe that’s why? Could it be that a freed slave calling himself Lincoln might have been a dangerous thing to do in that environment at the time?

One of my clients

Washington Irving.

Speaking of president names, don’t forget George Clinton…

George & Martha Washington had no children. I wonder if “Washington” was ever a common name even back then, and nearly died out before the freed slaves resurrected it?

I have never personally met a white family of Washington. I keep looking for one, too. I have only met older black dudes named Lincoln; it’s usually a first name, like Linc Hayes from the Mod Squad. That name’s popularity seems to be a generational and regional thing.

If you play with male first names and tack it to “Washington” in a Google image seach, you’ll tend to see more black guys. F’rinstance James Washington has examples going back to the 19th century and waaay more examples than white Bob Washingtons.

Here’s a link to seven minute NPR stream re: black patriotism and the founding fathers: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Washington. Presidents Washington, Madison and Jefferson (all Virginians) were slaveowners. There’s some evidence to suggest that while some blacks changed their names after Emancipation, some descendants are directly related to those bondsmen once owned by these men and still carry the name.

The ones that I know of have all been black. I work work with a black man now that is named Washington.

My next-door neighbor is a older (60+) white dude named Lincoln.

As an interesting aside, he is a former electrical engineer for NASA or somesuch and is arrogant enough to have the personalized NJ license plate “MENSA”, of which I assume he is a member.


Perhaps there was a family of big planters in the antebellum South named Washington, who, among them, owned a huge chunk of the slave population.

If there were only a handful of white Washingtons relative to all those slaves, then the proportion of white to black Washingtons in today’s population should be small (assuming that the slaves were named after their slavemasters). This would be even more so if those white Washingtons procreated with their slaves and made even more black Washingtons.

All this is speculation, so it may not be appropriate in this forum. But it’s an interesting question.

[nitpick] If it’s a myth about slave culture and the Civil War, what is “urban” about it? Unless “urban” is a euphemism here, as it is in the white corporate music business, for “black,” can’t we just call it a myth? That is all. [/nitpick]

I went to school with a white guy named Washington, FWIW… And I can’t think off the top of my head any black acquaintances named Washington.

Didn’t slaves take their owners surnames? Did they mostly change their names after emancipation? Maybe Washington was a prominent name for slave owners and blacks never changed it. I don’t know the answers to my own questions, so obviously I’m throwing things out there.

Well, we know of one such family, right? Guy by the name of George…

GW’s will stipulated that his slaves should be freed once his wife died. I don’t know how many slaves he owned, but I’ve been to Mt. Vernon, and there were lots of slave quarters there.

And, since we’re speculating… I would suspect that a good number of freed slaves would be reluctant to take the last name of their former masters, wanting to start a new life fresh from those memories. Wahsington would certainly be right up there as a choice.

Technically, true, although most didn’t change their names until after the Civil War was over. Here’s a cited article discussing black soldiers who changed their names.

Many of the names under discussion here are relatively common in the UK (which, after all, is where they came from in the first place). Despite the almost non-existance of slaves* domestically in British history, neither was the non-white population very large prior to the 19th century. Consequently, most of the British people with those names are white.

  • To head off any debate, we can safely ignore serfs, indentured workers and the like from this discussion, as they were not visible minorities either.

John, the article I just linked had this interesting paragraph – basically saying there’s no single naming convention that predominates, but rather:

So it’s also possible that whites in America with the surname Washington are the descendants of post-Revolutionary War era immigrants.

I work with someone with that last name. She’s white as can be, and is in fact descended from the family of Geo. Washington.

Quoth lissener:

This is a pet peeve of mine. “Urban”, as in “urban music” is not a euphemism or synonym for “black”. It’s an accurate descriptive term, in fact more accurate than “black music” would be. Although American inner cities are predominantly black, there are white folks who live in the cities, too. And by and large, those white folks listen to the same music as do their black neighbors. Meanwhile, blacks living in suburban and rural areas (of whom there are some) tend to listen to the same sort of music as their neighbors, too. So the music listened to by people in the city is urban music.

Meanwhile, of course, in the phrase “urban legend”, “urban” is used as a synonym, not for “black”, but for “modern”.