Friday, 5 July 2013

What's In a Name?

Ghanaian are generally religious people and this shows in almost every aspect of our lives, especially our name. Names have to have meaning so you are not likely to find a Ghanaian called North West or Pilot Inspektor or some other random aggregation of alphabets like Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116(Pronounced "Albin").

Names are believed to have an impact on the bearer so kids are named after respected people or given names that carry some sort of messages. Not only people, buildings and anything capable of bearing name. The need for names to have meaning often results in rib cracking and head scratching moments. 

Attempting to translate anything from any of the many local languages to English can be very difficult, more so if your mastery of the English language is not great. I’m not sure why people won’t ask for help when embarking on this obviously tricky task but they have provided as with many moments of laughter and embarrassment depending on where you are standing. 

"Nin nsa nu edwuma Consultancy" should translate to "His Handiwork Consultancy" but somehow ended up being the very awkward and sexually suggestive "His Hand Job Consultancy".

Being an Ewe is a good excuse to have a hilarious name (yes, you guessed right; Hilarious is someone’s name). The problem with Ewe-English names is the same problem with poor translation only that Ewes apply this only to humans. Why they chose to translate their name will probably be the subject of another discussion. The result of these translations means many Ewes have adjectives, adverbs, nouns and even sentences for names. Recently, #Ewenames was trending on Gh Twitter and I felt guilty laughing because somewhere out there, I probably have a cousin with such a name.

Common translations include: 
Patience - Dzigbordi
Godsway – Mawufemor
Godlives – Mawuli
Saviour/Redeemer – Dela or Hola
Lifesgood – Agbenyo

There are also some names that are so long that the owners just go by their acronyms. I’ve heard of two such name,
WETT: We Thank Thee
JILAK: Jesus Is Lord and King

Unfortunately my Dad denied me my birthright by not giving me any of these exciting names. Those of you who know my middle name know how bland and non-Ewe it is.

I always thought it would be a nice idea if an Ewe lady called Forgive married a guy called Divine, the pastor could always say, "To Forgive is Divine".

There is no better way to let people know of your struggles or achievements in life than to name something after it. The inscriptions of taxi’s and trotros most often tell what the owner of the vehicle is going through at a certain point in his life. Villages and towns are named after certain historic occurrences or people. There’s a town in Kumasi called “Sikafuɔ a’mba ntɛm” which means “The Rich didn’t arrive early enough. I’d really love to know the story behind this name. I also remember seeing a shop with the name, “IF 7 + 3 = 11, WHO CARES”. 

This junction's name means, "I'm not a fool, I've just got issue".

And this one...  

Most Ghanaian nicknames are just annoying. That is if you are the one bearing the name, otherwise, they are just hilarious. Some people are given nicknames right from childhood and never outgrow them. Somewhere along the line, your real name just disappears and the annoying nickname becomes your real name. Nicknames are usually given based on personality or looks. 

For example, all midgets in Ghana are called "Taller", Plump kids are called Obolo, light skinned people and Albinos are called Obroni, Yevu or whatever word there is for "White Man" in their local language. The only way to permanently get rid of an annoying nickname is to move to a different community, where you will probably get another annoying nickname.

There's always some grown up in your neigbourhood with a very inappropriate name. The new craze is to have these nicknames on obituary posters.

Ernest Kofi Appau 
(aka Malafaka)

With so many churches and businesses popping up everywhere and with everyone wanting a unique name, there was always bound to be a shortage of names. New Churches keep surprising us by pulling names out of unknown planes of reality.

Sometimes I hear or read a name and all I can say is, "what were they thinking?" Why burden a child with a name that would cause him to be the object of ridicule all his life. Why give your shop or business a name that would cause people to run in the opposite direction? 

I was recently at beach and some of the names of the canoes and boats where just too hilarious. Most of them were Ga proverb. 
Man Making is Bottom Tight
(Nuufee mɔ dzi dunaa miamɔ)

1 + 1 = 3 Why? Yaa Bi Onye
(1 + 1 = 3 Why? Go Ask Your Mama)

Ghana my happy home, I can't help smiling when walking the streets and reading and hearing names.

PS: It's nice to know that Ghana is not unique when it comes to strange names, I got this picture from a friend in Kenya. I have no idea what it means in the local language but in English...