Friday, November 06, 2009

To name or not to name. How do Ghanaian parents name their kids?

I'm not having kids anytime soon. Knock on wood. Unless y'know I happen to chance on one. Accidents happen.
I saw a guy wearing a t-shirt which read "Kids at the backseat of cars cause accidents and accidents at the backseat of cars lead to children" hehe. So I allowed my imagination to ran wild, and I wondered, if I am blessed with one of these accident babies, what will I call it?
How do Ghanaian parents decide on the name?
Since I'm all into Ghanaian names, I'd give a traditional but meaningful first name. Something like Nkwaye (meaning life is good) as a first name. Then I'd give a middle name or string of middle names. Then the last name.
Now traditionally, Ghanaians name their kids after their parents, or other family member they admire and respect. And I think this is actually expected. That is, these family members/parents expect that their children will name their kids after them. Usually what happens is, several of the siblings will name their children after their parents, aunts, uncles and sometimes family friends. All I'm asking this by force?
What if I don't feel like naming my kid after anyone in my family or my husband's family? By the way, here's my disclaimer. I'm not saying this is what I'll do o. I beg. I'm just the off chance that I wanted to do this, would there be a problem?
If I had this accident baby and named it Nkwaye Dossou-Yovo simply because I like the name...but say the baby daddy was called Francois Ocloo. Then would the Ocloo family and the Cleland family be pissed that the baby was not named after them? Not the middle name and not even the last name?
And if I had a second child with a different baby daddy called Promit Senghor and called the baby say Abayie (meaning you have arrived at a good time). Then the baby's name would be Abayie Mammah simply because I like the name. Would my family start to resent that I've finished having all the kids I'll ever have and have not once named anyone in the family?
But they'd not lose hope. They'd maybe count be as a lost cause but they'd count on my siblings to name them.
So what if my siblings also followed my example so that what we end up with is a new generation whose names are not in anyway tied to the parents names. Just because we the kids decided to actually exercise our right to get creative with our babies names by giving them names we actually like and want as opposed to the names we're expected to call them. Instead of following some laid down convention to give the man's last name to the kid as a surname, if we did both the girls family and the boys family setewaa and gave him a beautiful last name we like like Dossou-Yovo and Mammah.
So question. To the people who have kids. And those who are about to have kids...would anyone ever do this? Why and why not? And did you feel pressured to name your kids after your family? If so, is there anyone who resisted it? With what consequences?
And finally, isn't being named a privilege and honor rather than a right? And if so, why would we feel pressured to honor someone? And should we do it simply because it is expected? Even when we don't admire them?
As for me, I'm just dreaming up the possibilities right now but I have no idea what I'll do when I actually bring forth.
And if you don't have kids, do you know what you will name him/her/it when you do.


  1. I don't know if it's just pressure to name kids after my family, but I will surely want my kid to have my name (am a dude). I do think my kid's English name would be a family secret too :-). I like the idea of traditional and meaningful names as middle names. Now, I'll need help figuring those out, maybe I'll leave that to the lady's family. :-)

  2. Dont get too carried away right now with picking names.

    You'll have to do it together with the man/woman you make the baby with.

    Keeping in mind that you can only name the baby once, and in this day and age probably wont have more than 2, you'll have to think fast and hard about it.

    You cant just do whatever you want, you'll need to stick to some of the tradition.

    Unless of course you've set you families up for it all your life by being rebelious and quirky, in which case it would be almost expected.

    we have 3 months to go for our baby and we've got all the names locked down, but dont tell anyone yet cos they'll definitely have issues with it.

    tell them when it'll be too late for them to try to influence it, but before you've made a mistake of spelling your grandmothers name wrong :p

  3. As a child, I wanted to name my kid
    Michael Diamond Hotness..ah childish fantasies but now, a simple Kobina
    Senanu(after my little bro, whom I love to pieces) and the baby's daddy's surname floats my boat.
    In the case of traditional names, it would be impossible to choose exotic ones for my kid; the entire clan may possibly hold a meeting to disown me this instant!
    Yeah, there's so much pressure to name the kids after the family, but what people forget is, we're in the 21st century not the 1st..

  4. I think the whole naming kids after other family members thing is specific to Akan ethnic groups. There are no such expectations where I'm from, and I suspect this is true in other parts of Gh too.

  5. whether in the 21st Century or 1st Century, I believe names should signify where you are from. globlisation does not necessarily means throw away what you have and scramble for what others bring to the globalisation table. There is individuality even in globalisation. I also don't subscribe to the philosophy of just naming after anyone. Assuming your father is Hitler, do you name your children after him. Nope! In fact you would have sentenced your children to untimely death. However, I do believe your name should reflect who you are.

    So I would not give my children any English/Christian name. Nope! Never. They would take my surname. The first name would be familial...(mother or father or grandfather etc) and then a middle name (this is where one can easily experiment...and if I should do I would go for some ancient Egyptian names or names from the Ghana, Mali or Songhai Empire like Sundiata, Maridjata, Mansa Musa etc)

  6. None of my children, should I have any, will have a European name. They will not have a trite European name (John, Simon) and they will most certainly NOT have a ghetto-ised European name. No Keisha, no Aleisha. None o' that.
    I will give them meaningful names. No day-names (Amma), no position names (Nii Ayi), no long names (Nyametease), no silly names (ohawbensonie?).
    I keep my ears and eyes peeled all the time for meaningful Ghanaian and African names.

  7. I like and admire your independence and your ghanaianess than any ghanaian that I have ever met.But sometimes it appears you comments and thoughts makes you alien to the ghanaian culture, life that you want to live.Probably you want to set and create your own way of ghanaian culture, life, food, song etc. maame esi, i think that will be good of you.

  8. Hmmm... I know many people who have deviated from the norm and have not had any issues with their families. I have friends who have named their children Kwame Nhyira, Yaw Adom and Kofi Abayie and nobody objected. I guess families are realizing now that times have changed and people can do whatever they want.

    Obla Yoo, I dont think that the naming after family members is specific to Akan groups. Dont Ga's have a kind of naming order even if it is not specifically linked to a family member? For instance, Lamptey's being called Naa Koshi, Odarkor; Nettey's Naa Sarku, Naa Sarkor, Naa Sarkai; Taylors - Naa Baakoshi etc etc?

  9. You're right. The Ga/Dangbe have an even stricter naming system.

    There is a strict order of names that you have to follow if you do decide to follow it

  10. Anon and Faf: in effect we're saying the same thing. yes the Ga-Dangbe have a strict order of names, but its not necessarily after your mother or grand aunt or anything. So yeah, not all ethnic groups must name kids after their forebears. That was my point. That doesnt mean that there arent other norms/factors that are considered during the naming.........

  11. I agree with Fredua that "whether in the 21st Century or 1st century, names should signify where you are from. Globlisation does not necessarily mean throw away what you have and scramble for what others bring to the table".

    Purely for the sake of argument, let's look into the future, where everyone gives their kids fancy names without any link to the "family"... Someone's family tree might look something like this: Mr. & Mrs. Asamoah begat Benedicta Asamoah. Benedicta Asamoah begets Abayie Mammah. Abayie Mammah begets Ohawbensonie Sundiata, who bears DeShaun Goodblood. DeShaun Goodblood is the father of Nyameyeodo Abrantie, the father of Shannon Firimeso Johnson... Through this process, I see the genesis of individualism which leads to the weakening of familial bonds. Another consequence I see from this process is the proliferation of the now commonplace phenomenon where when one is asked where they're from, they answer without hesitation, almost with pride thus: "my parents are from Kofiase" but I wasn't born there and have never even stepped foot there. As a matter of fact, I don't even know in which region of Ghana Kofiase is so don't bother asking me which district it's in". I shudder to imagine the majority of Ghanaians holding this view 30 years from now.

    Back to Fredua's point, your name signifies where you're from- the group you belong to. I don't feel any pressure to pass my family name down to my progeny. To the contrary, I'm proud to add their names to the line. I think I'll leave "experimentation" in the domain of advancing Ghana's infrastructural development, like finding ways to bring reliable electricity to the rest of Ghana.

  12. I just had a baby 2 wks 2day. the naming was a real big issue. Father is Ga n I am ewe/krobo. I wanted to name my daughter Edem. but tht was impossible cos baby's father said his family will fine me and make me slaught a sheep. lol So anywho I said by hook or crook I have to name my child after my mum (Naki) and no one is gonna stop me. I even told him he shld be happy tht i am nt giving the baby my last name.. So we finally decided baby's name is gonna be Naki adjeley Sowah. Which we already registered with gov't.
    Well thn we call home and his family is like we cannot name the child Adjeley. Father is Adjetey, so he must give Naa Atswe to the child. We taught we could just give the child any Ga name. so now we have to put it in writing to have the name changed .

    So we officially named the baby this weekend and everybody keeps asking whts her Christian name. it was an awkward situation tht made me cry during the ceremony. Even the pastor asked whts the christian name. i told him the name on the bible we gave him is the childs name so he shld just stick with tht. wht made really sad was tht the pastor made it sound like the name was an evil name and can u imagine he prayed casting the "devil" in the family tht comes with the name. He made it sound like the child will be bound by the name. Our friends and family are not happy tht she does nt have an english name. I had to argue with this lady tht if she cannot deal with it thn she shld not come around my child.
    we are siting around here thnking if we made a mistake by not giving the baby an englsih name.

  13. Broke African you did not a mistake. Let other people think what they want. Yours is not their child. They can have their own and name him/her all the English royal names they can think of. I am Ga and my name is Naa Sakley. I have always liked it and contrary to what some Ghanaians may say Naa Atswe is a lovely name. Never mind what some ahem...Akans say. It is unique. So what is your baby's full name?

  14. i agree, u ddn't make a mistake, broke african. my kids have very unique english names including the ga names they had to have and i don't let anyone tell me i was wrong in choosing the names. i chose them because of who i am, i wanted an english name with a good meaning in addition to the ga ones we are 'forced' to choose. i'm glad u named ur kid after ur mom. most pple will not like it in ur husbands family but i feel after carrying my baby for 9 whole months, the only person who shd have a final say in what name he/she get is the father. the family members who don't agree can have their own and line their birth certificates with all the names they want.

  15. @Broke African. I, too, get that whole "what's your English name?" bullshit. I'm not English so why do I need an English name? What you name YOUR child is ultimately your decision. Be strong and stick to your guns.

    I'm not giving my children any English names (unless I happen to marry an Englishman). However, he/she/they will most definitely have a Ghanaian name and a Biblical name in order to reflect my beliefs. I hope my future husband agrees with me. If not, he can name our child whatever he wants once he carries he/she/they for 9 months!

  16. @ Broke Ghana Lady. Keep your head up. I salute you for not choosing an English name. We are not English, we are Ghanaian. And does a name determine whether you will make a good Christian or not. The pastor - no disrespect - was acting out of ignorance and should have known better. You have not made any mistake. I'm in my third trimester and expecting a baby boy. I'm Ewe and my baby-daddy is a Muslim from the Northern Ghana. And whilst my parents are Christian, they are thankfully open minded. So at the end of the day my partner and I compromised one Islamic name, one Ewe name and our surnames hyphenated.
    At the end of the day you and your partner are the ones who bore this child and are raising her. Don't start feeling bad about your choices. Much love and stay strong from a fellow Yummy-Mummy ^_^

  17. Aww, i'm tearing up from all the love going out to Broke Ghana Lady. Now I wish I was a Yummy Mummy too:)

  18. The whole 'Christian/English name' nonsense is misguided good intention, pure and simple. You should educate your pastor or otherwise send his name to Esi to pass on and I'll write to him myself. There is no good or evil in a name--just good or evil people.

    @The Broke African: may your baby add good things to the reputation of her name.

  19. Thoughts of a SimpletonNovember 10, 2009 1:03 PM

    Amen!!!!! God bless this beautiful Baby!!!!!

  20. Wow, lovely post. I rarely comment but now I must speak up. Born and raised in US but hold my immediate ties to Ghana with all of my might, I too have wondered at the idea of naming my child. I am a Ghanaian and marveled at the idea of passing my lineage down to my children. I suppose I felt robbed as a youth because my mother raised us speaking English (wanted you to master the language was her excuse) and rarely spoke of Ghana unless we asked or were being disciplined (I picked up the torch upon arriving back from Ghana when I was 14). Names are important. I feel that names help solidify the identity of a person, as an African, I strongly believe so. As a child, I was always puzzled why my mother named me "Andrea"** (changed for personal reasons) and not, "Rebecca" or "Janelle", a name with a particular ring to it. As I got older, I began to yearn to be called by my house name "Nana Ama"... Now over those phases, I love all aspects of me but the thought lies with my children because my husband is Nigerian, Igbo in fact. This discussion about naming our kids has often left me dissolved in tears. He's insistent on giving them African names with meaning (I agree) but names that are Igbo(at least the first and last name Igbo, the middle, decidly Ghanaian). My God. I am torn! I insist that they have a Ghanaian first name because their last name is automatically Igbo-- his. I feel its a showcase of the blending of cultures that our unborn child's family has begun, a blessing of in and of itself. We don't plan to have children anytime soon but I tell you this, naming children are important. Whether you name them after a beloved family member or derive one from a phrase (I love Abayie and Asabea!)they do matter. I understand the history behind naming after others, but I solely feel that the development of a name should come from the parent(s) who have carefully thought of a name that suits their heart's desires. In the meantime, I pray (literally) that my husband will consider my point of view for what it is and not me imposing my Ghanian-ness on him!!
    P.S. The broke African, her name is PERFECT. Do you hear me?? The way it rolls off the tongue is precious alone. Do not let anyone make you feel otherwise, you have done a blessed thing by birthing her alone. Congratulations and many blessings upon her life, your family's, and your future children!

    Thanks Esi for this post! You've reminded me to not back down in fighting my kiddies' names!

  21. Sorry for the typos and grammatical errors (I meant to say To The Broke African: ___________) I'm at work and rushing off this blog before the boss catches me... again:)

  22. Interesting. About naming, I was arguing with my girlfriend. Well not really arguing but we were talking about naming our children. And like you, I believe in traditional Ghanaian names and she being from Uganda argues that is not an option. Lol. Because she doesn't understand them. I got her to concede some points though but she wants them to have English names (that's not We ended up discussing how the man shouldn't have the sole right to name the children. Which is the case at the moment in traditional Ghana. But anyway, nice article.

  23. Broke African, I am FUMING on your behalf. Just fuming. I dare anyone to call me out on not having a 'Christian' name. My very very Chrife parents saw fit to give me only Ghanaian names so everyone else can go hang. Aaaba.
    @ Chix - what is it with East Africans and English names? I don't think I've met a single Ugandan with a Ugandan first name - and I've met a lot of Ugandans....a lot of Johns.

  24. Asabea lol!!! the ONLY Ugandan i know is called John. Coincidence?

  25. Kenyans too like "abrofodin" too much; and old school names too like Eunice and Herbert. Tanzanians seem more proud of their African names.

    I like the way most Indians, even those born in the US or UK, give their kids Indian names. But like Nigerians, the kids often "brofolize" Nikhil = Nick or Olufunmilola = Lola.

    Chinese people win this one though. The children themselves often choose their own English names when they start learning English in school, usually around the age of 12. This produces some very funny combinations like LeBron Chan and Unicorn Zhou.

    Basically, we (Ghanaians) are not alone in this confusion.

    Me, I like the name Obonsam-mpo-suro.

  26. haha Obonsam-mpo-suro. love it!
    If your peeps won't allow you to name your kiddie that, you can try for

    You can't me (wo ntumi me)

    So if your last name is Kejetia, your son will be

    You can't me Kejetia. lol

  27. Ok, ummm I'M going to stick up for English names! I love my Ghanaian name (Abena Kwartemaa) but my first name is English. The only sad thing is my Ghanaian names are not on my birth certificate, that's the problem with the Ghanaian concept of 'house names'! And as I was born in England and I can't stand the everyday butchery of my surname (people, it's purely phonetic Twi how hard can it be?!?!) I am happy that the people I meet on a day to day basis don't make me cringe by ALSO mispronouncing simple, Abena Kwartimaa. If I am resident in the UK when I have my children, they too will have English names (not Ghanaian-English, or Ghetto-American-English, but genuine ENGLISH!)

    However, if I was resident in Ghana and planned to stay there I don't anticipate the same kind of problems so let the Ghanaian names reign!

    @ Broke African - I love the Ga naming system, it's got such a beautiful heritage to it and I HATE the term 'christian name', I mean I am a Christian and if my name is Naa Kwaley, or Awura Ama Asantewaa or something then that is my CHRISTIAN NAME, no? KMTTTTTTTTTTTTTT

  28. Heyyyyyyyyy! @ Nsoromma - my name is Naa Kwarley!! I just thought it is cool u mentioned it, lol!!! I love love the Ga naming system and Ewe names as well (it's just as well I'm both, no?). And you are right about whatever name i have being my christian name, if in fact I am Christian, lol!

  29. I love the name "Asabea" too.. does anyone know what it means??

  30. Guess it makes life easier for for our children if we can name them "Western Name" + "Traditional Middle Name" + "Definitely Father's Last Name". In this case we are still continuing the traditional last name, keeping the middle which most of us get call when we are home with family and friends and also, the Western names to helps us fit the globalization of this modern world. Once our children are old enough, they can choose which name they prefer to be called. Please choose wisely.

  31. I want to name my daughter "Maame Adjoa Sarah" after my mom, not giving her my last name.