Why is Liberia the most James-populated country?


dr. Eugen Schochenmaier

Mondonomo, Chief Scientist

Aug. 2, 2022, 8:37 p.m.


It is widely known that James, as a given name, is a modern descendant, through Old French James, of Vulgar Latin Iacomus (closely related to Italian Giacomo, Portuguese Tiago, Spanish Iago, Santiago), a derivative version of Latin Iacobus, the Latin form of the Hebrew name Jacob (original Hebrew: יעקב). Jesus's brother "James" had that same name, which is given as Iakobos in the Greek of Gospels. From these two, you can see where Russian and other Slavic languages get Yakov, German gets Jacobus and so forth. The French Jacques is no longer a stretch. And Santiago? Well, it's just Sant Iago, Saint Iago(v).

James is a very popular name in English-speaking populations. In the United States, James was one of the five most common given names for male babies for most of the 20th century. Its popularity has declined considerably over the past 30 years, but it remains one of the 20 most common names for boys. In Northern Ireland, the name has appeared among the ten most popular for the last quarter of the 20th century and into the 21st. In 2013, James was the 8th most popular name for boys in Australia.

The popularity of the name James based on Behind the Name Portal:


The distribution of James in Europe perfectly mirrors the Way of St James, a network of pilgrims' ways or pilgrimages leading to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition holds that the remains of the apostle are buried.

Well, one may expect that the name of James would win first place in the United Kingdom, Australia, or the USA, but according to the new projectNames in the Bibles“ run by Mondonomo the highest density worldwide is in Liberia!

As many of us do not know where to locate this country on the map, let us try to find out why the people of Liberia are the biggest fans of James’ name. Just imagine that every 49th inhabitant of Liberia bearing the name of James! First, Liberia is a very special place on the African continent. It is the only Black state in Africa never subjected to colonial rule and is Africa's oldest republic. The country name Liberia was suggested around 1824 by a member of the United States Senate from Maryland, Robert Goodloe Harper, and had a reference to the fact that the colony was established as a land of freedom. Even the capital city, Monrovia, was also named at his suggestion in honour of the 5th president of the United States at that time. Guess what his name was? Right! James. Or completely, James Monroe (1758 – 1831). He was active in the American Colonization Society, which supported the establishment of colonies outside of the United States for free African Americans.

 The society helped send several thousand freed slaves to the new colony of Liberia in Africa from 1815 to 1840. Such a fact can be compared to a launching trigger. In 1819, the 4th president of Liberia was born. His name was James Spriggs Payne (1819 – 1882) and he served as the 4th and 8thPresident, from 1868 to 1870 and from 1876 to 1878. He was succeeded by Edward James Roye (1815 – 1872) who served as the 5th President of Liberia from 1870 to his overthrow in 1871.

Then, James Skivring Smith (1825 – 1892) was a Liberian politician who served as the 6th President from 1871 to 1872. Smith was born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1825 to a family of free blacks. He arrived with his family in Liberia in 1833, and his parents died of malaria within a year. As a young man, he trained under Dr. James W. Lugenbeel (1819-1857), a medical doctor of the American Colonization Society. Thereto we can add Joseph James Cheeseman (1843 – 1896) who was the 12thPresident. Of course, this trend established a kind of naming trend.

Besides that, one of Liberia’s oldest churches is called James Edward Marshall Memorial United Methodist. This church announced the observance of its 110th year of existence in 2021. In Africa, they also know the name of James Priest who was an African American Presbyterian missionary in Liberia. He was raised as a slave and belonged to a “Mrs. Means” of Lexington, Kentucky, who emancipated her slaves in 1832 to send them to Africa. In 1843 Priest graduated from New Albany Theological Seminary in Chicago and sailed to Liberia as missionaries of the Northern Presbyterian Church. Moreover, in the beginning of the year 2022, the Dean of the Trinity Cathedral, James B. Sellee, was elected Bishop Coadjutor of the Episcopal Church of Liberia.

There were lots of children who had been baptized as James. Among others, we can remind James Alexander Adolphus Pierre (1908 – 1980) who was the 13th Chief Justice, serving from 1971 until his death in 1980. The Liberian former professional footballer James 'Salinsa' Debbah (1969) was the manager of the Liberian national football team, where the footballers Jimmy Dixon (1981) and James Koko Lomell (1985) had the honour to play.

Because of its connection to Jacob, James is a Biblical name (two of Jesus’ apostles were named James). Due to its Scottish roots, it also has a royal connotation and became more widely popularized when King James VI took over the English throne in the 17th century. Considering the long-standing popularity of the name James and the history of Liberia, it should come as no surprise that there are plenty of historical and famous figures bearing some variation of this moniker. In fact, we could have lists just for Liberian celebrities and politicians named James!