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The Meaning of the Word Creole

new orleans creole“Creole” is used so often in referring to things about New Orleans. What exactly does the word mean? Creole, used in its original sense, is derived from the Portugese crioulo, meaning “native to this place”. It came to be a term used for first generation people of French or Spanish ancestry in the New World.

At least, that’s one of the meanings for it. And that’s the meaning given in an old New Orleans history book I found at my brother’s last night. And that is what most folks believe, myself including until a few months ago

I discovered recently on a TV program about Louisiana history that in this state the word Creole meant anyone and anything that had it’s origins here. For a citizen it didn’t matter what race or ethnicity you were. If you were born in Louisiana you were called creole. Fruits and veggies and even furniture and other commodities originating here were called creole.

So by that definition I am and all my family and friends born in New Orleans are Creole.

This is a bone of contention for some. At the early part of the 20th century mixed-race blacks of French heritage started using the word for themselves and whites began to shun the word so as not to be confused with this newer meaning.

After a discussion among my family where I held the all-inclusive definition for the word Creole while others held only the first generation view I happened to be at a dinner party with two history professors from Tulane. I put the question to them. They said that in South America Creole did mean first generation French or Spanish but that indeed in Louisiana it meant anyone or anything originating here.

If you were white, black, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Irish or whatever, if you were born here you were Creole. Because Creole meant at that time “originating from Louisiana.” Louisiana saw itself as being apart from the United States and used the term to distinguish those who were born here from those who moved here. Even though Louisiana eventually joined the union the meaning of this term stuck until the 20th century.

And Louisiana still seems to find itself a little apart from the rest of the country because of our unique food, customs and traditions and yes, language. And nowhere is this truer than in New Orleans.

Posted in New Orleans Culture, New Orleans History.

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4 Responses

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  1. Augustins/Comeaux says

    You got it all wrong…You are living in the Racist Past…The word Creole is Portugese and it means to Create..It was bestowed on the first Born Mixed Race People in the New World to distinguish them from the New Slaves that Were Brought in from Africa…The Europeans later adopted it to include themselves..How Can the Whites be included in this definition when there were no Original offsprings born in the New World ,as the Early European French and Spanish Brought no Women with them…

    This Meaning that You are Using was created By Anti Black colonial People in Order to take credit for everything Creole..We Creoles of Color are tired of You People claiming everything for Yourselves..Can’t You give Creoles of Color credit for anything…?

  2. Richard Bienvenu says

    You seem to be very sensitive about this subject. And I don’t know why you are claiming I’m not giving Creoles of Color credit for anything. Nowhere in my post did I ever discredit anyone. Perhaps that’s what you wanted to see because of your sensitivity.

    The post was merely to state a historical fact and you seem to want to make it some kind of racist statement. You yourself use the term Creole of Color which seems to differentiate you from other types of Creoles. What are those other types of Creoles?

    I am merely stating a historical fact: the word Creole has and has had many different meanings. If you look in an unabridged dictionary at the library you will see the dozens of meanings ascribed to it. And all you have to do is look on the Internet and you will find numerous definitions of the term.

    In the post I said that in Louisiana Creole had a specific meaning and that was anyone born in the state no matter what race or ethnic group. It was to differentiate those born here and those not. In South America and other places the meaning was different, of course. Simple as that.

  3. augustine/comeaux says

    You still seem to be dwelling on that Old and incorrect definition that all these Dictionaries have been Using ..You are throwing this word around as if it was something fashionable that can be Used just about anytime and on any occasion, well it dosen’t work that way…You are damn right we are sensitive..It’s Our Culture and Our way of life and not something that people can Use simply because they are from Louisiana…Again

    ” Garcilaso de la Vega, “The Inca,” writing in the early 1600’s, tells us: “The name was invented by the Negroes… They use it to mean a Negro born in the Indies, and they devised it to distinguish those who come from this side and were born in Guinea from those born in the New World….
    Version 2…….The term Creole (Spanish — Criollo) was introduced in 1590. It derived from the Latin word “crear”, which meant, “create.” In 1590, Father J. de Acosta decided that the mixed breeds born in the New World were neither Spanish, African, Indian, but various mixtures of all three, thus a created race.
    The Spanish copied them by introducing this word to describe those born in the New World, and in this way both Spaniards and Guinea Negroes are called criollo if they were born in the New World.”
    these meanings are well documented in the Spanish and Portugese archives..Many of the Dictionaries are starting to adopt this meaning ..You can start by logging onto Wikipedia…So lets stop these old wives tales that have been around for centuries..We’re proud of Our History and This name does not refer to every Tom Dick and Harry that might have been born in Louisiana..Creole is a French Culture..There are many Whites that also share Our Culture but they too belonged to the Original inhabitants of French Louisiana..Please we’ve been fighting for Our survival so don’t try to take that away

  4. sokehead says

    @ augustine/comeaux on your Version 2…….The term Creole that you cited on the Wikipedia page it has no citations/references…..

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