By Mansa Quainoo in Accra, Ghana
From Kwame Nkrumah through Kofi Annan to Komla Dumor, Ghanaians have some of the most intriguing names across Africa with each name having a specific meaning depending on time and day of the week when someone is born.
Like in Nigeria, naming ceremonies are a long held ritual/tradition and most Ghanaians, men and women, try to live up to their names. The name you get at birth might just determine your destiny.
Our Ghana Correspondent was named Esi Mansa Quainoo because she was born on Sunday (Esi), is the third of three girls (Mansa) and Quainoo is her father’s name. She has been examining the history/significance of some Ghanaian names.
A few years ago, a council in Germany refused to register a new born baby boy Osama Bin Ladin. The parents were told to get a different name. Had the council accepted to register that name linked to an alleged terrorist, his life might probably have been blighted forever. He would have had problems getting a school, jobs and even getting a wife. Many South African parents now name their children Mandela while some even name them “Madiba” which was the clan name of the late anti apartheid crusader and former president Nelson Mandela. That is because a Mandela name tag is a feel good name. In Ghana and most part of West Africa countries, names are given to children depending on a number of factors including day of week, order of birth, etc. I will concentrate on how my tribes people, the Akan of Ghana choose names for children.
After the birth of an Akan baby, he/she is kept indoors for eight days. At the end of the eight days, family members, well-wishers, and friends come together for the naming ceremony. The Akans begin and end their naming ceremonies before sunrise and it is the responsibility of the father to give a name to the child. The first name the baby is given is the “soul name” and it is determined by the day of the week the baby was born. The Akan tribe is made up of the Fantes, the Ashantis, the Kwahus, and the Akuapems, hence there are slight variations in the “soul names” but they all mean the same. For instance, the Fantes name a female child born on Thursday as Aba /YaaYaa while the Ashantis will name her as Yaa.
Day Male Female
Monday Kojo, Kwadwo, Jojo, Cudjoe, Kudjoe, Adwoa, Adjoa
Tuesday Kwabena, Ebo, Kobena, Kobina, Kobby, Abenaa, Araba
Wednesday Kwaku, Kweku Akua, Ekuwa, Kukuwa
Thursday Yaw, Ekow, Yaa, Aba, Yaayaa,
Friday Kofi, Fiifi, Yoofi Afua, Afia, Efie, Efua
Saturday Kwame, Ato, Kwamena, Ama,Amba
Sunday Kwasi, Akwasi, Kwesi Akosua, Esi
Each day of the week in which a child is born has its unique characteristics. Generally, it is believed that all those born on Mondays are nurturing in nature, dependable, organized and protective while those born on Tuesdays are problem solvers, structured in nature and neutral in all matters. Children born on Wednesdays are spontaneous, vibrant and cordial while Thursday born children are quiet in nature, incredibly observant, good listeners and analytical.
Children born on Fridays are leaders, temperamental with big hearts and are generally the instigators. Children born on Saturdays control situations and make the rules. Sunday born children are passive, sensitive, warm, shy but very aware of their surroundings.
It is a must in Akan tradition to name a child after a respected family member or individual in the society who is considered of good moral standing and principles. It is believed that, whoever a child is named after will definitely pick the character traits, values and morals of that person. A father may decide to name his first son or daughter after his father or mother. If that happens, the child automatically takes his/her grandfather’s or grandmother’s name to the already determined “soul name”. In order for the father to show reverence to the child he has named after the father or mother, he may optionally add “Nana” (unisex) or “Maame” (mother) to the child’s name. The elder of the clan uses two glasses or calabashes containing alcohol and water during the naming ceremony. The elder dips his index finger inside the water and drops the water on the mouth of the baby while saying; “when you say it is water, it is water” repeatedly thrice. After that, he repeats the same action with alcohol saying, “when you say it is alcohol, it is alcohol”. Symbolically, the elder does this initiation to inculcate in the child the need to tell the truth all his/her life. Gifts are presented to the child and the mother and there is some feasting at the end of the naming ceremony.
Additionally, names are given in the Akan tradition according to the order in which one is born. There are variations as a result of the various groups that constitute the whole Akan but they basically mean the same thing.
Order Male Female
First born Piesie Piesie
Second born Manu Maanu
Third born Mensa Mansa
Fourth born Anan, Anane, Annan Maanan
Fifth born Anum Maanum
Sixth born Nsia Essien
Seventh born Eson, Ason Nsowaa, Esson
Eighth born Awotwe Awotwewaa
Ninth born Akron, Nkrumah Nkrumaa
Tenth born Badu, Bedu Baduwaa, Beduwaa
Eleventh born Duku Duku
Twelfth born Dunu Dunu
Last born Kaakyire Kaakyire
A classic example is Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah. He was named Kwame because he was born on a Saturday, and Nkrumah because he was the ninth child in the family. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Atta Annan was named Kofi because he was born on a Friday, Atta because he is one half of a twin and Annan because he was the fourth child in the family.
My tribes people also name children because of specific events including special deliveries, the season of the year and the era of birth. A child born during war time is called “Bediako/Bekoe”. Children born during Christmas are named “Bronya”. If you are born lucky to be born under very happy circumstance or at the time there is affluence in the family, you will be called Afriyie (unisex). “Anto/Antobam” is the name given to any child whose father died before delivery. If a father refuses/ denies a pregnancy, the resulting baby is named “Obimpe” .
To sign off, most Ghanaians either don’t have Christian names like Patricia, Francis, Mark, Pamela or Mercy or those who do simply don’t use them or change them all together.
You now know why we are proud of our Kofi Annans and our Kwame Nkrumah’s.