This is not a religious question but moreso clarification on the word Niger in the bible. Here is Acts 13:1:

Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.(Acts 13:1)

Question-According to the blueletter the lexicon for the new testament, the word comes from Νίγερ Níger, neeg'-er which means black. Some use this to say that this means that Simon was a black man but does the word Niger actually mean black like we know it today or does Niger mean something else?

I was wondering if him being called Niger was due to his skin tone or does the word mean something else?

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    So is your question, what the word niger means when applied to a person?
    – Draconis
    Oct 26, 2022 at 1:03
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    @Draconis Yes, thats basically my question. The bible states that it is a surname for Simon and I was wondering if him being called Niger was due to his skin tone or does the word mean something else?
    – Servant
    Oct 26, 2022 at 1:08
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    @Servant I added that last comment into the question itself, as it seems to be the main question at hand.
    – cmw
    Oct 26, 2022 at 4:26
  • There are many Englishpersons people called Black, Germans called Schwartz and so on... Mostly ordinary Caucasians. Oct 26, 2022 at 15:52
  • There was a Roman Emperor called Gaius pescennius Niger 194bc
    – Linford
    Nov 28, 2023 at 2:57

1 Answer 1


Niger was quite a common Roman surname ("cognomen") and so was widely found. Also, in eastern regions there were frequently found people named Niger, possibly from the Latin word. For example, there was Niger the Perean, a military leader in the Jewish War.

In terms of why a family might originally get the moniker, could be a range of reasons. Niger means not just black in Latin, but any dark color. It could potentially refer to wide variety of complexions. For example, Spaniards may have been considered "dark" to Romans in the early republic when surnames were being invented. Also, it could refer to someone with black hair, just the same way as Albinus is another common Roman surname that might refer to a person with a primordial ancestor having blonde hair.

The Romans did describe, for example, Ethiopians as black (niger), for example, the literary character Memnon is described that way. However, in the Roman world Niger did not carry an African connotation, and the many Niger families in Rome seemed to largely be considered no differently than any other families who were of Italic stock. So, without any additional evidence, you cannot draw too many conclusions.

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    also worth noting that most Africans in the Roman Empire were North African and so to modern Americans would likely appear Middle Eastern rather than Black (although there likely would be some people who would be perceived today as Black, from Nubia or Ethiopia)
    – Tristan
    Oct 26, 2022 at 10:59
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    Worth noting for analogy: Black is a common and very traditional British surname; it has no particular associations of complexion or race today, and may have come from several possible origins, including either an ancestor of the modern word black, referring to dark hair or complexion, or (confusingly!) an ancestor/cognate of the modern words bleak/bleach, referring to pale hair or complexion. Oct 26, 2022 at 18:26
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    While it doesn't really affect the correctness of f the answer, there are some seeming anachronistic statements here. There were no 'Spaniards' in the early Roman Republic. The people in what we now call Spain at that time were mostly Celts and similar tribes mixed with some Greek and Carthaginian colonies.
    – JimmyJames
    Oct 26, 2022 at 20:29
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    @PeterLeFanuLumsdaine for more analogy, in many other languages there are relatively common surnames derived form the word meaning "black/dark" (for example, German Schwarz, French Lenoir, Czech Černý, Russian Chernov).
    – trolley813
    Oct 27, 2022 at 8:39
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    @JimmyJames not especially, as that very article says, whilst scholarship generally rejects the notion that modern racial terms can be applied to Ancient Egypt (which is why I phrased it as "to modern Americans would likely appear" rather than "were"), the Egyptian population likely had a typical appearance similar to that of Modern Egyptians (i.e. the Muslim invasion did not result in widespread population replacement, as often claimed by black nationalists). It follows that they would appear to modern people as Middle Eastern
    – Tristan
    Oct 27, 2022 at 8:54

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