Names in African cultures are pointers to their users’ hopes, dreams and aspirations; they may reflect their users’ geographical environments, their fears, their religious beliefs, and their philosophy of life and death. Children’s names may even provide insights into important cultural or socio-political events at the time of their birth. The circumstances surrounding a child’s birth may be considered when a name is being chosen.
Factors such as the day of the week of the birth, the time of day (dawn, morning, dusk, afternoon, evening, night), the season of the year, the order of birth, the location a person is born, the specific circumstances relating to the child and to the child’s family, the attitude of the parents as well as the gender of the child all play significant roles in the overall naming process and in the actual name given. If one’s parents suffer or suffered from child or infant mortality, one is likely to have a funny, survival or death-prevention name believed to be capable of preventing and/or eliminating totally such deaths since it has the power of preventing parents in the underworld from causing the death of such children. Names in African societies may even be important indicator(s) of the bearers behavior and as pointers to the name-bearers’ past, present, and future accomplishments. Personal names in Sub-Saharan Africa are therefore not mere labels showing which person (particularly, which father) is responsible for a child’s birth. There is also a close identity between the name and the name bearer such that the name links to the name-givers overall experiences. Structurally, African names range from single words, phrases, and sentences, to units larger than the sentence.
Ethnopragmatically, African personal names may involve indirectness and implicitness. They may thus be indirect reactions to problematic situations in the lives of the name-bearers, their parents or their communities at large. The greater the communicative difficulty involved in the circumstances surrounding the name-givers world, the more indirectness involved. The indirection and ambiguity involved in African naming traditions may be due to the consequences of candor and hence the need to have an escape route should the name-givers be questioned by powerful elders or superiors. This article primarily focuses on Akan names.
Akan is the language of the people called Akans. The Akans are the largest ethnic group in Ghana. According to the 2000, national population census, 49.1% of the Ghanaian population is Akans and about 44% of the population speaks Akan as non-native speakers. The Akans occupy the greater part of the southern sector of Ghana.
The Akans attach much importance to names and naming practices. The knowledge about Akan names gives insight into Akan culture, philosophy, thought, environment, religion, language and culture. The symbolic nature of Akan names and their interpretation depicts Akan religious beliefs, and their interaction with foreign cultures.
Naming can be considered as a universal cultural practice. Every society in the world give names as tags to its people, but how the names are given, the practices and rituals involved and the interpretations attached to the names differ from society to society and from one culture to another.
The Akan naming system is very unique from any of the western societies, but it may share some similarities with the naming systems of the Ewes Ghana and other African ethnic groups.
This is the first automatic name every Akan child gets based on the day s/he was born even before s/he is officially named. Except in few cases, this first name is not tampered with. The Akans call it kradin (lit.) ‘souls name’ and they believe that this is a name that a person’s soul offers him/her. It is the soul of the person that decides when to allow the unborn child to enter this world. It is believed that this particular day may affect his/her behaviour, fate and future. The names of the days were derived from names of deities and their particular days of worshipping. Akan names of the days of the week show a regular pattern: name of a deity + -(a)da ‘day’ e.g. Kwasi-ada, Dwo-ada, Memene-da… We find the same patterns in English (Mon-day, Tues-day, Wednes-day…), in Italian (Lune- dì, Marte-dì, Mercole-dì) and in many other Indo-European languages: French (Lun-di, Mar-di, Mercre-di), German (Mon-tag, Diens-tag, Donners-tag), Norway (Man-dag, Tirs –day, Ons-dag), and so on. This pattern (name of a deity + word for ‘day’) is a feature shared by almost all the languages belonging to the Indo-European family, and it is believed to have been a trait of the Proto-Indo-European language as well.
There is a system of seven-day names that correspond to the days of the week. There are two forms; one for females and another for males. I present here a table of these in both the Twi and Fante forms. Twi and Fante are two major dialects of Akan. In some of the names in the table below, the Twi forms overlap with the Fante. In others there are two different forms. There are cases where Fante alone has two different forms.
Table 1. Akan Days and Birthday Names male and Female.
|DAY NAME||MALE NAMES||FEMALE NAMES|
Among the Twi speaking people, each of the birthday names has its own appellation that hints on the behaviour of the people born on such days. The table below depicts that. The English glosses of the appellations are given.
Akan Birthday Names and their Appellations.
|Day Name||Appellation||Day Name||Appellation||Both Male and Female|
|Kwasi||Bodua/ Obueakwan ‘agility’||Akosua||Dampo ‘agility’||Awusi ‘agility’|
|Kwadwo||Okoto/Asera ‘peace’||Adwoa||Badwo/Akoto ‘peace’||Adwo ‘peace’|
|Kwabena||Ogyam/Ebo ‘friendliness’||Abenaa||Kosia, Nimo ‘friendliness’||Abra ‘friendliness’|
|Kwaku||Atobi/Daaku/Bonsam ‘evil’||Akua||Obirisuo/Obisi/daakuo ‘evil’||Aku ‘evil’|
|Yaw||Preko/pereba ‘brave’||Yaa||Busuo/Seandze ‘brave’||Awo ‘bravery|
|Kofi||Kyini/Otuo/Babne/Ntiful ‘wanderer/traveller/’||Afua||Baafi/Nkso ‘wanderer/ traveller/’||Afi ‘wanderer/ traveller’|
‘combat ready’, snakebite herbalist.
The appellations for both male and female and their responses have the same interpretation. People born on particular days are supposed to exhibit the characteristics or attributes and philosophy, associated with the days. For example, a Monday-born is supposed to be peaceful and calm, while a Friday born is a wanderer and adventurer, and a Saturday born is creative. The last column represents response addressive associated with the day names of the Akan. Both female and male have the same forms because they are all derived from the same source, i. e. the deity of the particular day. The elderly people still use these responses when one greets them and they know the person’s birthday name. This phenomenon confirms our hypothesis that names are not arbitrary labels among the Akan of Ghana but have indexes to sociocultural contexts.
Credit: The Sociolinguistic of Akan Personal Names by KOFI AGYEKUM