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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

by Frederick Douglass
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What quote from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave describes taking of a new last name to accord with new social identity as a free man but retention of the first name as a mark of continuity of individual identity? What does this information accomplish in the larger narrative as a whole?

A quote that describes Douglass's taking of a new last name but maintaining his identity through his first name is

I must hold on to that [Frederick], to preserve a sense of my identity. Mr. Johnson had just been reading the "Lady of the Lake," and at once suggested that my name be "Douglass."

This shows the importance of naming as an identity marker to Douglass, who did not want to be erased because he had once been a slave.

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After Douglass runs away and becomes free, ending up in New Bedford, Massachusetts, he is told he needs to pick a new name. He had for a long time been Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, the name his mother gave him at birth. After arriving in New York, he had dropped his two middle names and changed his name to Frederick Johnson. He had thought that would be his final name, but he discovers that there are already too many Johnsons in New Bedford to keep them apart, so he must choose something else. Douglass therefore decides he would give another Mr. Johnson

the privilege of choosing me a name, but told him he must not take from me the name of "Frederick." I must hold on to that, to preserve a sense of my identity. Mr. Johnson had just been reading the "Lady of the Lake," and at once suggested that my name be "Douglass."

The quote shows that the bulk of Douglass's identity rests with his first name, which he is anxious to retain. The "Lady of the Lake" that Johnson mentions reading is almost certainly Sir Walter Scott's long narrative poem.

This information shows the importance of names and naming to Douglass. He is upset early in the narrative that the slaves' dates of birth are not kept as the white children's are, feeling diminished by this omission. Having a strong sense of identity and personhood is therefore of special significance to a man who did not want to be erased because he had once been enslaved.

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