By Laci Moore
In Ghana, names can directly reflect who a person is, who they should be, and where they came from. The first name is given based on the day of birth. The spelling or the pronunciation can change depending on the location or the tribe, according to Edwin Brown, a student I met here at the University of Ghana in Legon. The child then waits eight days before he/she is given their middle name and last. The eight days are very significant because the child is considered a visitor, meaning the child can come and go until the eighth day. According to Kwasi Gyasi-Gyamerah, the Resistant Director of CIEE here at the University of Ghana in Legon, there is a difference between the traditional and contemporary naming process in Ghana. Traditionally, in the Akan region, a child is given their middle name based on who they should imitate or who has been successful in life. The last name is not as significant or needed. Contemporary naming practices tend to give a child their father’s last name but the middle name is still more valued.
The naming ceremony is very important to the older generation and less so for younger people. It begins and ends with prayer regardless of the person’s religion. The parents are not as involved as the elders or the uncle is in this ceremony. The grandfather places his finger in a glass of water and then places that on the child’s tongue. This is supposed to be the child’s first taste of the truth. Then the grandfather places his finger in alcohol and then places his finger on the child’s tongue. This is supposed to allow the child to tell the difference between what is good and what is bad, between what is truth and what is not. Then the names are presented to the family by the elder. At the end of the ceremony, cloth and other things are given as gifts to the child. I find that this concept is similar to the Wise Men bringing gifts when Christ was born.
Names are very important in many different cultures, and there are implications attached to names that may not be obvious to people who do not belong to the community. In America, names are determined in many different ways. Some people will post polls on Facebook, look for names in a baby book, or name a child after a grandparent or other relative. In my opinion, names are not as valued or thought about as much in America.
If you would like to learn more about the Akan culture and why names are given, I encourage you to further research this topic. One interesting article can be found here: https://www.modernghana.com/blogs/426429/the-cultural-and-spiritual-importance-of-our-ghanaian-names.html
Kwasi, Adomako. “Truncation Of Some Akan Personal Names.” GEMA Online Journal Of Language Studies 15.1 (2015): 143-162. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 24 June 2016.