Friday, September 17, 2010

"Learn the Names." Name Significance Among the Ashanti

“Akua, Good morning. Ma kye.”

Ma kye, Ava. Ete sen?”

“By God’s grace, I am fine. I hope you are also doing fine.”

“I am, me da se.”

“Akua, I was wondering if you could lend me some help? It has been some time since I have been in Ghana, and I am noticing that names are very important. I want to get better at them. Can you teach me what I need to know, as a local?”

“Eh! You want to know who be you, eh?"

“Um… yes?”

“Well daughter, what day were you born?

“July 12th, 19—”

“No no no. What day were you born on?”

“Um. I think it was a Thursday…”

“Den you are Yaa. Yawada, or Dursday born. De day of Earth. If you were male, you would be Yaw.”

“Oh, I see. Can you tell me what the other day names are?”

Men da se, no problem. You see, when a child is born it is given a day name. Some use dis name for life, but seven days after dey child is born it is given a Christian or Muslim name, or many times, dey give the child a family name. Once dey give that child a name it is considered human. It is very very important.”

“If a child is born on Monday, Aduana, den de child is Adowa, female, and Kwadu for male. It is de day of peace.”

“A child born Abenida, or Tuesday, is Abena, female, or Kwabena for a male. It is de day for de great ocean.”

“Okay, I see. And Wednesday?”

“Eh! Exercise patience Ava Yaa. Wednedsay, or Akuada makes a female Akua, like me myself, and Kwaku for a male. It dis de day of de spider and our trickster God.”

“Thursday borns like yourself are Yaw, male, and Yaa, female. Friday, or Efiada, is de day of fertility. Males born Friday are Kofi, and females are Afia.

“Saturday, Memeda, is de day of God. Males born this day are called Kwame, like de president Kwame Nkruma, and de females are Ama.”

“Last we have Kwesiada, or Sunday borns. Akwasi is de name of de males, and Akosua is de dname of de females. It dis de day of de universe.

“Thanks so much Akua. I hope this helps.”


Dear friends and family,

Recalling anthropologist Keith Basso's advice in Wisdom Sits in Places to "learn the names" to establish rapport and increase the quality of research, I recently had an interesting conversation with Akua about the importance of names in Ghana. She laid out a foundation of day names, but since then I have looked at more specific names. Names in Ghana, like most cultures, contain very deep-rooted meanings and insights. In general I found that most people knew the Christian meaning of their names more than the Twi name, but everyone knows their day name. When you find someone who was born the same day as you, there seems to be an instant bond, and you greet that person as sister or brother.

Adjuapomaa Patricia is a teacher at Salvation Army. Adjapomaa is her family name, and Patricia, her Christian name, means noble.

Akua, the landlord of the other house of our field study group, was Akua Adoma Wadie. Adoma is her father’s grandmother’s name, showing something of the traditional family that includes much more extended family in the matriarchal system. Her last name, Wadie, is her father’s name. She has a Christian name, but told me that since she is a proud Ghanaian she does not use it.

Anokye, like in Okomfu Anokye Secondary School, is the title of a fetish priest.

Atu or Ataa is a name given to someone who is a twin. Traditionally it was a taboo, but I saw many twins when I was in Ghana. Ama Ataa Aidoo, the Ghanaian short story writer, is a twin. We can also see from her name that she was born on Saturday.

Tawiah is the name often given to a daughter who is born after a twin, and Afra is a name for a girl with all brothers, like Maggie in my field group.

I also asked some of my friends at the secondary school what their name meant. Here is what I found:

Appau Sarah- means Princess of Queens
Achea Ernest- means seriousness
Mfum Christiana- Christiana means follower of Christ, and Mfum is her fathers name
Boatemaa Winifrey- Winifrey means beauty, and Boatemaa is her grandmothers name
Yeboah Clement- Clement means intelligent, and he did not know where his Twi name came from
Michael Odruo- Michael did not know his Christian name (one who is like God), but Oduro means valiant
Oppong-Aboagye Caroline- means strong and powerful
Hakeem Ibrahim- means wise
Osei Sarpong- means the brave one
Afriyie Michael- means one who is like god, and from God’s destination. His friends called him Pastor Mike. It was very fitting.
Damien Fanam Emelia- “Freeman cry for me” and hardworking
Abigail Empress- meaning father’s love and queen
Victoria Vanessa Appiah- meaning victory and good
Felix Agyeman Augh- means happier warrior, and Augh also means warrior
Lydia Asamoah- means good mind and lover of Christ
Faustina Nana Abba- Her Christian name meant good luck or good head, and the Twi is her father’s name
Buckman Agnes- Agnes means pure in heart, and Buckman is his father’s name
Sandra Ayimadu- Sandra means helper, and Ayimadu is the end portion of her father’s name
Millicent Pokuaa- Her Christian name means happy
Sandra Tudyi- Sandra means helper, and Tudyi means victory
Issabel Osei Barfi- Her Christian name means God’s promise, and the Twi was her father’s name
Charity Owusu- Charity means morally good, and Osusu is Twi for pride
Anges Prempeh- Prempeh means royalty, but is a very common name now

Sometimes the name of a family member also carries over the nickname. Grace, the daughter of Esther our landlord, was named after the grandmother, so they all called her “Mame” even though she is the youngest of the household.

Some of my favorite names were “Sikayena,” or “money is hard to come by.” This was the first born of the Boa Kye’s family. They are cocoa farmers. They also had a daughter named Olivia, which is a name for a medical plant, and the son was named Gabriel, because Boa Kye, the father, wanted his son to live a life like the chief angel.

Our neighbors also had some interesting baby names. Perpetual, a three-year-old girl who happened to scream perpetually when she saw white people, had a name that meant the perpetual existence of God after death, as well as a very long pregnancy. Kayla, her sister, was named after a field study student from last year. Michael half seriously told me he would name one of his own children after me. I do not know what to think of that, but a part of me hopes that I can have lived my experience in a way that would leave that kind of imprint.


(Field Notes 23.2, 27.20, 29.11, 55.5, 58.7, 64.8-29, 64.39, 65.26, 66.6-7, 80.12)

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