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It's All in a Name



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It's All in a Name

Cultural Relativity



Understanding the naming conventions of non-European cultures is important for an investigator or anyone wishing to certainly and correctly identify people in our diverse country.  The following column information is an attempt to assist the reader in correctly applying the conventions of uniquely ethnic names so identification is possible.  This article should not be interpreted as indicating any unusual prevalence of any specific ethnic group toward unlawful or immoral activities, since no such intention exists.  In coming issues of The John Cooke Fraud Report, we will explore the mysteries of the naming practices of many ethnic cultures.  In this issue, we look at the various naming traditions of Ghana.

The Republic of Ghana is a small, tropical West African country, about the size of the state of Oregon.  It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and by the countries of Togo, Burkina Faso and the Cote d'Ivoire.  The current population is approximately 18 million:  99.8% are black African (of which 44% are Akan, 13% Ewe and 8% Ga) and 0.2% are European.

Historically, Ghana was a part of the Mali Empire that reached its peak around 1307 A.D.  The Portuguese came to Ghana in the 15th century and were later joined by the Dutch, Danes, Swedes and British.  The European powers eventually departed one by one, leaving Britain as the colonial power.  In 1957, Ghana became the first African country south of the Sahara to achieve independence.  Today, after a long period of military rule, Ghana is a constitutional democracy, with a legal system based on English common law and customary law.

As a result of the many years of British rule, the official national language of Ghana remains English.  Other languages spoken include Ga, Twi, Ewe, Fanti, Dangme and Dagbani.  The population is approximately 55% Christian, 30% traditional/animist and 15% Muslim.

A Ghanaian child is traditionally kept inside the dwelling for seven days after its birth.  It is then brought outside on the eighth day to be named. During the customary ceremony, family, friends and relatives get together to say prayers and take libations (share a bottle of the local spirits.)  The child is then named according to tribal tradition.  The birth is supposed to be registered with authorities within one year.  If the registration takes place later, affidavits are required from parents and relatives.

In some Ghanaian tribes children are customarily given British Christian names at the time of baptism.  If the baptism takes place after the child's birth has been registered, these added names will not show up on the birth certificate.  With a sworn affidavit from the child's relatives, however, these names can be added to the record later. 

One widespread Ghanaian custom is to name a child according to the day of the week on which the child was born (see chart).  This particular tradition can be useful when checking  for fraudulent documents:  e.g., a birth certificate for a person by the name of Kwabenah can be checked against a perpetual calendar to see if the person in question was actually born on Tuesday.  Ghanaians who use false names often fail to make sure that the name they are using matches the birth date.   

The naming traditions of the different tribes vary widely: 

The GA tribe, which originates from the Accra region, speaks a language also known as Ga. These people do not normally use the day-of-the-week naming system.  Children generally take their father's surname: commonly Ankrah, Dodoo, Lampitey or Oti.  Males are often given the name Nii, while females are often given the name Naa.  A second name is sometimes added to show the child's seniority in the family: Nii Aryee (second-born son), Nii Amoo (third-born son).

Other families use a similar system, with a first name that indicates gender and a middle name that indicates birth order:

1st born son          Nii Lante      

2nd   R     R         Nii Lanti

3rd   R     R         Nii Lankwei

1st born daughter     Naa Lamitey

2nd   R     R         Naa Lamiorkor

3rd   R     R         Naa Lenkai

The EWE (pronounced Ever) people, from the Volta region, speak Ewe.  Ewe names are often difficult to pronounce, even for other Ghanaians:  Abodakpi, Ametewe, Awoonor, Tamakloc, Zagbedeh.  Ewe children take their father's surname.  They are not generally named after the day of the week.

The AKAN tribe makes up about 45% of the Ghanaian population.  These people often name children after their father, grandfather or other relatives or friends.  They do use the day-of-the-week system.  Although all of the Akan are joined by a common language, the tribe can be subdivided into smaller groups:

The Fanti originate from the Cape Coast area.  Because this area was one of the first places the Europeans settled, the Fanti people very often use British names. (There is more than one Fanti man sporting the name John Smith)  Mixed African and European ancestry is common, with many Fantis having brown rather than black skin. Common Fanti surnames include Acqueh, Aidoo, Aikins, Akram, Badu, Baiden, Cudjoe, Dadzie, Dickie, Hammond, Hayford, Walker, Williams, Yankson,  

The Ahanta, from the Western region, use names such as Ackah, Ackah-Yensu, Koomsou, Yonkery.

The Afutu-Gomoa, from the Central region (the Winneba area) use names similar to those used by the Fanti: Apah, Baiden, Blankson, Brown, Cooper, Dickson, Tetteh, Yankson.

The Akyeam are located in the Eastern region or Koforidua. The letter combination of "ky" is pronounced "ch," so that names such as Akyeampong can also be spelled Acheampong.  Other common names used include Aboagye, Adonteng, Amoako, Amponsah, Boateng, Dampare, Danquah (Dankwa), Prah, Twum.

The Ashanti are from the Ashanti region, which is well known for its gold and diamonds and for trading.  Common names include Acheampong, Asante, Baffour, Bempe, Bempong, Boateng, Frimpong, Mensah, Opoku, Owusu.  The names Owusu and Mensah are often used as false names for fraudulent purposes.  (These names would be equivalent to our Smith and Jones.)

The Kwawu are found in the mountainous Eastern region.  Common names used in this region include Agyare, Amakye, Ansah, Asiamah, Atakora, Baffour, Boateng, Gyemfi. 

The Brong are located in the Brong Ahafo region.  Common names include Kyei, Kyereme, Kyeremeh, Sekyere.

The Akwapim, in the Eastern region use the names Addo-Yobo, Ansah, Apenteng, Asiedu, Asare, Awuku,  Darku, Karam, Kwum, Obiri, Ofori, Ofu, Osei.

Marriage customs and the associated name traditions vary.  Traditional marriages are arranged by the parents of the couple.  A date is set, the parties meet to celebrate and the couple is considered married.  In this case, the wife does not take the new husband's name.  When  a couple marries in a Christian church ceremony, however, the wife does take her new husband's surname.  Following a Muslim marriage, the wife generally adds her husband's surname to the end of her name. 

Births and deaths are registered on a form known as a "Certified true copy of entry in register of births/deaths," which is produced on request from the Registrar of Births and Deaths for Ghana.  Although these certificates are always "genuine" in that they are prepared by the registry on receipt of sworn affidavits, the date of issuance can be a clue that the person has changed his or her name and registered the "birth."  In fact, when a person is refused a visa to travel to the USA or Europe, he or she will often try again a short time later with a new identity after belatedly registering the "birth."

Investigators checking into claimants from Ghana are advised to include questions to ascertain the area of the country and/or the tribe the claimant is from.  Follow-up questions should be formulated according to the nuances of the naming traditions for that group. 

Alternative index checks are suggested, with a slightly different spelling (eg, "ch" for "ky" if the claimant is from the Akyean tribe).

Check the issue date of the birth certificate.  If a birth certificate for an adult claimant is recently issued, the claimant may well be using a false name, especially if the insurance

policy in question was also recently issued.  Also, if the claimant is from a tribe that uses the day-of-the-week naming system, check the calendar day on which the claimant was born by referring to a perpetual calendar.  Verify that the claimant's name is appropriate for the listed birth date.  If there is a mismatch, the claimant is probably using a false name.

Thanks to John Saunders of Linden Management (Maidenhead, England) for contributing to this article. Phone: (01628) 826764 / Fax: (01628) 822167

Copyright 1996 Alikim Media