Did you know that former UN Secretary General Kofi Atta Annan was a fourth born child who had a twin and was born on a Friday? The surprising thing about this is that you do not have to have read his biography or a profile on him anywhere to know this. It is all information in his name just sitting there waiting for you pick up on it. This and many other meanings are hidden in Ghanaian names of people all around us. In this article we will look at some of the interesting traditions around the naming of children in Ghana. In many households no matter how westernized we have all become when a baby is born there must be a baby naming ceremony in Ghana which will also double up as a celebration of getting a new member of the family.
Naming a child is solely the responsibility of the parents and depending on how westernized you are willing to let your life be the choice can be shared although it has traditionally been done unilaterally by the man - the child’s father. There are a lot of intrigues around the ceremonies as different new ways of life that did not used to exist in the past start to spread that cause certain impasses regarding traditions such as out-dooring and others. In this article we will look at how people prepare for baby naming and how the ceremony is done.
We will also look into the famous process of ‘adinto’ which means “to throw a name” which is the Ghanaian naming ceremony of the Akan. When you are done reading this article you will be able to figure out how I found out the day renowned Ghanaian diplomat Kofi Annan was born and he had a twin (sadly she passed away in 1991). We will also take a look at the naming ceremony in Ghana done by some other ethnic groups as well as a list of some of the names and how they were picked.
Ghanaian culture and traditions around naming and outdooring
Naming and outdooring ceremonies must both be done for every new born baby by the family in the presence of the extended family and under the guidance of the family’s elders. These ceremonies are carried out by the elders according to the gender of the baby, if it is a male child then the ceremony is done by a man and if it a female child then the ceremony is done by a woman. The two ceremonies can be done together but there is no requirement that compels one to do them at the same time. A good example is how the northern tribes do the outdooring ceremony of the child on the third day after birth of on the fourth day after birth while the Akan do it after eight days go by. In the case of the Akan it makes perfect sense for both the baby outdooring ceremony and the naming ceremony to be done at the same time as there is no point in a baby staying without a name after outdooring.
Now we already know the timelines according to which this is done but we have not yet defined what outdooring is. Outdooring is literally taking the baby outside. See there is a certain significance to this seemingly simple act. In the old traditional societal setting and some of today’s cultures, people believed that evil spirits would bring bad luck to the baby if it was brought out of its abode – usually the mother’s house - without proper ceremony. This ceremony and all events around it is what is called outdooring. It is a way of introducing the baby to the world, and introducing the world to the baby as well.
The extended family and friends are all brought together and food and drink is shared. The baby is also imbued with responsibility as they come into the world. They are wished a long life too. The reason outdooring and naming are not done as soon as the baby is born is because, according to the Akan, a time to wait for the baby to stay. The days before a baby is named, it is considered a stranger with no name as the community is yet to see whether they will live or succumb to early illness and die.
When a baby is born and then dies shortly after birth and before the naming, it is a bad thing. This also has another meaning, it shows that the child had not come to the land of the living to stay but was only passing – from the spiritual realm and to the land of the living and then onto the realm of the ancestors aptly named “Asamando” where they would stay for eternity. Among the Akan, a child that has not yet been named, essentially a stranger, is referred to as “Ohoho”. The same for the Ewes is “Amedzro” and for the Dagombas, a boy will be called “Saando” and a girl is called “Saanpaga”.
Combined Ghanaian outdooring ceremony and naming ceremony
The two are done together most of the time so we will look at the two together. This is done this way because the naming ceremony is relatively short and involves fewer steps so then it makes preparation easier if the two are done at once. It is worth noting that the procedure outlined below may differ for your tribe or for other tribes you may have heard of but that is okay as different regions do it slightly differently with the same end result in mind.
Akan naming ceremony
The preparations for the outdooring and naming ceremony involve the acquisition of gin, a pair of cups – glass is used these days, a bottle of water or some water in a bowl or a container basically, you also need a cutlass in case it is a baby boy or a broom if the baby is a girl. A mat and calabash are also needed. The relevant friends and family of the parents are invited and know to be present on the on eighth day after the child is born. The morning of the ceremony, two elders, by traditional requirement from the father of the child’s side of the family are sent to bring the baby and its mother from the mother’s house. The elders are chosen according to character and those of the best character are to carry out all the ceremonial rites. The mother is expected to bathe the baby and the two, that is the mother and the baby should both be clad in white and stay put till they are collected by the elders.
One elder is chosen to carry out the ceremony after the mother and child have been brought out. The elder is chosen according to the baby’s gender as described earlier. Male elder for a boy and female elder for a girl. Now before the two are brought out libation must be poured twice at every doorstep and at the main entrance of the house. The first libation is done using the drink (traditional gin) provided by the mother’s family and the purpose of the people being gathered is announced by the elder pouring libation. We can see the significance doors have in Ghanaian culture and tradition as there is a knocking ceremony in Ghana. After this has been completed the second libation is done using, yes you guessed it, gin from the father’s side. After this the two are unveiled and the baby is stripped naked and placed on a propped cushion.
The baby is held on the lap of the selected elder for the main part of the ceremony just before naming. The two cups are filled with water and gin separately and placed before the elder. The elder then uses his forefingers or a leaf to put a drop of gin on the baby’s tongue and followed by the words “when we say it is gin, say it is gin”. This process is repeated in the same way thrice and then the elder now dips his finger in water or uses a leaf as well, your choice, and puts a drop of it on the baby’s tongue and proclaims “when we say it is water, say it is water” , this is done thrice as well. The two are used to teach the baby to be a morally responsible individual and to be able to distinguish what is true from what is false and to tell what is good from what is bad. The various tongues for the proclamations the elders make depend on the community but this is generally the Akan traditional way.
Next the baby is named, the names are picked depending on a number of different factors such as the day of the week they were born, whether they are born twins or not and what number of child they are to their parents. We will take a deeper look into naming later in this article but for now let us assume that the name of the baby is selected. The name is then told to the baby in such fashion, note that this may also differ. The baby will be called Kofi and it means born on a Friday or it may be something like Annan which means you are the fourth born of your parents.
The second name of the child is usually the surname and is mostly given after the father or mother of the child’s father. It may also be given in honor of someone of honorary deed in society or an accomplished elder. This is done because many believe that the good qualities of the individual after whom they have been named.
After the name of the baby has been told to the baby he or she is placed on the mat on the floor naked and lifted up three times and the put back on the mat. The process now takes a little distinction here for the boy and girl and this is more apparent for twins of different gender as two ritual rites are performed. A baby boy is placed on the mat and a cutlass is placed in their hand. The cutlass is a symbol that served to indicate the role the boy was expected to play in society; protect his family, work to provide for his wife and offspring in future and to work together with his wife in the future.
If it is a girl then a broom is placed in her hand. And she is covered with a calabash or a basket is held over her for a few seconds. The broom stands for hard work and diligence in keeping the home and working to collect food from the fields. The calabash or basket symbolizes grace and duty in raising the children, working side by side with the husband and also expertise in cooking as was expected of a good wife.
These two events symbolize the close of the Ghanaian outdooring ceremony and naming ceremony and the baby is then presented to the gathered audience and introduced with its name as given by the father. The baby is now a member of the family. The gathered are given gin and food to drink and eat in merriment and celebration of the growing family. The baby was usually left with the mother after the ceremony but today some family friends are guaranteed the baby gifts and these are presented to the baby during the celebration after the naming.
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Naming of children is done solely by the father and this is how it was done in the olden days. In line with tradition this has been maintained. There are different names for male children and female children and in most cases the variant of a particular name for a different sex is simply changing one letter or two or the omission of some letter. The birth of a baby is not something that you can predict down to the exact day. So it is safe to say it was not a thing to think up different Ghanaian baby names before the delivery of the baby actually happens.
Once the baby is born and the sex is known then the different options for names can be considered by the father. It is the choice of the father whether or not to involve the input his wife in this process. There are not as many options as you may imagine as only the second name offered options for different naming.
The first name is usually given to represent the day of the week that the baby was born, different tribes have variants that involve adding a prefix to the name. A good example is Kofi, this is one of many Ghana male names for a boy born on Friday. Some variants of this include; Koffi, Fiifi and Yoofi. The Ghanaian female names are usually a slight iteration of the male name. The female version of Kofi is Afua, variants include; Afi, Afia, Efia and Efua. The pattern becomes apparent after you take a look at more names, you will see some at the end of this article.
The second name is given according to the family of the father. A son is named after the grandfather and a daughter after the grandmother of the baby. There is however a little more wiggle room concerning this name as some families opted to name their children after a famous Ghanaian or community hero. In some Akan language groups it is seen as a disgrace to the family if the baby is not named after the father or mother of the child’s father. This is because giving the child a family name meant the father held great pride in his family and thus intends on keeping the name of those that came before him alive through the child.
The third and final name is usually a tag to indicate the position the child was born. In a way it stated what time he joined the family. There are different names for the first, second, third and fourth children. These names are as below.
The last born, regardless of what number they were born is called Kaakyire. Here is where it gets a little interesting, to know that a baby was the last born would suggest that back then people had a way of family planning and would therefore decide that that child was their last and then name them accordingly.
The third name could also depend on whether or not the baby was born alone or as a twin. In the case that the baby had a twin then the two would get a third name that indicated they were a twin. The name changed according to what position they are born. You can be a first born of twins or in an even thicker plot twist you can be twins born after twins born after another set of twins, this is a thing. Here are some of the twin names.
If you have read the Ghanaian names above for the twins you will be forgiven for thinking there is a mistake but actually there is none. The first born twin, according to old folk lore is the younger twin while the second born twin is the elder. The reason for this is that during birth and as it is expected of the elder children in real life, the elder twin stayed behind as he/she helped the younger twin out first.
There are names for children that were born under circumstances that are considered extraordinary. Some of these circumstances include; times of war, in the farming fields, after a long barrenness, when the father refutes responsibility for the baby and its mother and more. In each of these situations there is a name and the name held a meaning that would let you know the circumstance of their birth. Some of these names and their translations are shown below.
There are many names for children but the ones we have now looked at are the names that indicate what day of the week a baby is born. They are listed below for both the male and female children.
I am fairly certain you can see the pattern I was referring to earlier in this article. Ghana male names have a trend with most of them starting with the prefix Kwa- or k-. Ghanaian female names on the other hand have the prefix A- at the start of all the names except for those born on Thursday for both the male and female children.
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