The original town was known as Atakpa from the Jukun words Ata and Akpa. The spelling Calabar remained till the British came and pronounced Calabar as Calabah. The neighboring town of Ataba took over the name and its Efik /Qua/Efut/Biase/Akampkpa indigenes became known as Calabar pronounced Calabah till this day. Calabar is a large metropolis today with several towns like Akim, Ikot Ansa, Ikot Ishie, Kasuk, Duke Town, Henshaw Town, Ikot Omin, Obutong, Bakassi, Biase, Akamkpa, etc.
As far back as the 16th century, Calabar had been a recognized international sea port, shipping out goods such as palm oil. During the era of the Atlantic slave trade It subsequently became a major port in the transportation of African slaves. Most slave ships that transported slaves from Calabar were English, at around 85% of these ships being from Bristol and Liverpool merchants. Old Calabar (Duke Town) and Creek Town, 10 miles northeast, were crucial towns in the trade of slaves in that era. The first British warship to sail as far as Duke Town, where she captured seven Spanish and Portuguese slavers, may have been HMS Comus in 1815.
The main ethnic group taken out of Calabar as slaves were the Igbo, from the neighboring Igbo land. African-American writer and slave John Jea was from the area. There was also a small Mulatto community of merchants with links to missionary and other merchant colonies in Igboland and Lagos, and across the Atlantic to Britain's colonies in the Americas