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Rejoinder To KKD: English And Christian Names Are Not Slave Identities
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“The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.” Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart.

Some of the things the white man put a knife on may be our names. When they couldn’t pronounce the multi-syllabic and difficult indigenous African names, we adopted their corrupted and anglicised mispronunciation of the things that define our identity. Mowire became Moree, Kuntu became Blankson, Atta became Arthur while Bosomafi turned out quite English as Bosomfield.

My great-grandfather did not have a Christian name but my father was named John. So I am also Benjamin. I named my sons Reagan and Randall. In fact, my sons are also Benjamin. Randall’s traditional name is Nana Prempeh (after his godfather Joseph Nana Prempeh, a truthful and very decent man I met in London long before I would meet Randall’s mum). As tradition demands, Reagan had been named after my father (Kwesi Incoom). At home Reagan is Nana Kojo Incoom, but nobody calls him by that.

Choosing a slave name

What are my worst faults for picking these names for my children? My friend Kwame, a university lecturer in Toronto, usually teased that I had denied my kids their true Ghanaian and African identity by naming them Reagan and Randall. He called them slave names that remind him of the evils of colonialism. Kwame’s children have no English or Christian names; one of them is Barima Kofi Kyenkyenhene.

Kwasi Kyei Darkwah (KKD), one of Ghana’s finest broadcasters and fashionistas, also hates slave names. In a recent interview on radio, the ace communications practitioner berated Ghanaians who give their kids Christian names, instead of local names that carry the true identity of the African: “I have a son, Kwaku Darkwa Kyei Darkwa, and a daughter, Ohema Asokwa Kyei Darkwa, and because they carry the nomenclature of their culture, when people say their names, people can tell a proud son of Ghana, a proud daughter of Ghana.”

Like my friend in Toronto, KKD defends the local identity to the core. He found it insulting that a teacher asked for his son’s Christian name. He went to the school to ask questions, wondering what the imposition of a Christian name meant for Buddhists, Muslims and traditionalists. Good show, KKD.

Culture and identity

Michael Jackson looks white, thinks blue and pretends to be black. Kwasi Kyei Darkwa speaks white, dresses white and looks black. His suits are European tailored; he rarely wears African print, except when he wants to make a fashion statement. The day my cousin heard him speaking Twi, she wondered whether he was not speaking in another person’s voice, like a ventriloquist: “So he can speak Twi?; he looks so foreign.”

Even with a traditional Ashanti name, KKD does not typify the quintessential Ghanaian cultural identity when he is clothed in suits and colourful shoes that adorned the manicured bodies of bourgeoisie white masters. The converse is also true. Ghanaians who wear the Kente cloth and traditional slippers may not necessarily be credited with the most convincing expression of the Ghanaian culture and identity.

Are Reagan, Randall and other Christian names non-Ghanaian and therefore slave names? I do not think so. Not every John or Peter is a disciple of Jesus Christ. There are good reasons why nobody has called their daughter Rahab or their son Judas in the last quarter of this century. While no Ghanaian is named Jesus, in reverence to the only son of God, you would find a Jesus on every street corner in most parts of the Spanish-speaking world. My roommate in Canada is Dr. Raphael Jesus Falcon.

What is in a name?

As Africans, our names carry important meanings and may have some historical or cultural significance. During Randall’s naming ceremony, my white friends wondered whether my wife and I hadn’t thought of a name for the baby before the day of the ceremony. They also wondered why the pastor asked me to explain and justify the name I had chosen for my son. And why would I name my son after a friend?

I did not have in mind a slave master called Reagan or even the former American President, Ronald Reagan, when I chose the name, even though I admit the coincidence works out fine. Randall (shield) reminds me of the good human values of Nana Prempeh than the Anglo-Saxon origins of the name. Whether as a protest or a stern statement of disapproval, Africans who are quick to invoke the horrific imageries of slavery needlessly are in a slave trade of their own.

I enjoy the rare honour and privilege of usually being asked by friends to help pick names for their children. I have always chosen English and Christian names for the lovely tots. One of my young friends in Atlanta sought my opinion on a difficult regal-sounding African name he had chosen for his son. I asked him whether the teachers in Atlanta will be familiar with a name that the average Ghanaian struggles to pronounce.

New patterns in names

When he was six years, the child demanded to know why he didn’t have a nice name like his friends. In Atlanta, Bradley Philips is likely to have a job interview quicker than Danso Abbeam Pumpuni. When Fanteman, Mr. Phillips, turns up for the interview, the hiring managers are shocked to see a black man with a nice, familiar name. They will treat him with the same disdain they would have dismissed Danso-Abbeam.

The new patterns and variations in the rendition of traditional names are quite revealing if not enslaving. Whether for emphasis or sheer style, there is a repetition of one item in the same name order, as in Kwaku Darkwa Kyei Darkwa. I have also come across Akosua Acheampong Osei Acheampong. This extravagant superfluity is not Ghanaian.

Pastor Mensa Otabil named his children Nhyira, Aseda and Sompa, and suddenly these names have replaced the proverbial Mensah in every home, alongside Adom and Nkunim. A couple in my church named their fine baby Animonyamba. Her surname is also a mouthful. How long does she carry such a name? She is only two months old.

Source: Today

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