What Is In A Name?

While working in La Cote D’Ivoire a few years ago, I had an experience that has since kept me wondering about the relevance of names and titles. I was paying a working visit to a community chief in the company of a European colleague in the Eastern parts where the people share cultural traits with the Akans of Ghana.

The chief in question was called Odeneho Awendadi Okofrobuo, Omenasono Addae III . One of the things which intrigued my colleague was the name of the chief. He asked why such a long name and what it meant. I explained that Awendadi meant someone who chews metals, Omenesono meant he swallows elephants and Okofrobuo, one who battles until he gets to the highest pinnacles.

In awe of the achievements of the illustrious chief, my friend questioned if we had taken the right decision to go and meet him. He was of the view that for such a decorated personality, may be it required a higher official to come to meet with him and not mere mortals like us.

I urged him on and in about two hours, we were at Nana’s palace seated and waiting for his arrival. After a while, a side door opened and two men carrying a pallet on which laid a frail old man who could barely see or hear was ushered in. That was Odeneho Awendadi Okofrobuo, Omenasono Addae III for you.

My friend, even more confused than before, tried to explain to them that we were looking for Nana, the one who chews metal. And they replied that we were at the right place and that was Nana lying there! It did not need a soothsayer to predict that Nana was at the transit camp waiting for the bus that would take him on the final journey to eternity.

I tried to water my friend’s confusion by explaining further that in our part of the world, titles and names are symbolic and all that it means is that Nana’s ancestor, whose name and throne he inherited, might have been fearsome and very vibrant in his days.

As we drove back, I kept reflecting on what goes into titles and names? Must they be for life or should they succumb to change to reflect a person’s current circumstances. The Bible is replete with instances where the Good Lord himself changed people’s names to reflect a change in their lives. The change in name from Abram to Abraham and, Saul to Paul readily come to mind.

But is it really helpful that a chief should continue to be called Obrenpong Oye Adie Yie when his reign has not brought any development to the community? In fact, all that Nana is noted for is the selling of lands to multiple buyers for his personal and selfish interest.

Coming home, it looks like picking a foreign sounding name is the ‘in thing’ now. It means that you come from a westernised or wealthy family. Some of the more current and common ones are Portuguese, Spanish or Italian. Thus, we have names such as Dodorado, Chanticlar, Elnino and the like; the result of our new found love with telenovelas from these countries.

In more contemporary times, there appears to be an emerging trend towards what I would term charismatic names. Thus, we have names such as Nhyira, and Adom. These are normally given by those who belong to the charismatic doctrine. Popular Christian names such as John, Paul, Timothy, Sampson, Ruth, Naomi and Mary are no more fashionable.

With our latest craze for everything Chinese, verily verily, I say unto you, it may not be long before we start hearing names such as, Chin Chon Choa Boadu or Ni Hao Cha Agyemang.

A look at names of people from some ethnic groups in Ghana makes some interesting revelations. For instance, when it comes to names with philosophical meanings, I think our brothers and sisters from Eweland come tops. Some are really sentences in their own right. Examples are names such as I know my redeemer Liveth and Agbenyenu, meaning life is what you make it.

Our northern brothers have the most rhythmic and onomatopoeic sounding names. Examples are, Bogobiri, Atintande and Wompae Logochuura.

Like the others, Akan names normally are rooted in history, and also have meaning, hence names such as Agyemang (one who fights to redeem his town or country), Nyamekye (God’s gift), Bediako ( the one at war), and Afriyie (one who came well). It is also not uncommon to find siblings who don’t share the same surname because they have been named after someone in the family with a different surname.

The beauty and significance of Ga traditional names is that as soon as they are mentioned, those with knowledge of the Ga tradition can easily trace the family from which the person comes and even his or her ranking in the family, whether first born, twin, third born etc.

Generally, the trend across the cultural divide in Ghana is for names with meaning and history while as much as possible, melancholic names are despised. Hence names such as, Bediako, Diawuo and Abebrese are not very common.

Could this be the reason why most sports teams always identify with powerful symbols? So we have the Super Eagles, Elephants, The desert Fox, Hawks, Chicago Bulls, and the Cheetahs. Why is no team named after the ant which is reputed for its wisdom or the termite for its organisational ability, or even the pig whose barbecue is unsurpassed?

Names enable us to have an identity and distinguish us from others. Even in some cases, names show religion and country of origin. This accounts for why naming ceremonies in almost all Ghanaian communities are celebrated as important ceremonies with spiritual connotations. Certainly in Ghana, a name is more than a mere registration number and that is why I am asking you, how much importance do you attach to your name?

The writer is Head of Public Relations and Protocol, University of Cape Coast and a retired senior military officer.