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The names are the vital part of the authentic language. The traditions of naming children tell about the history, social order and mentality of people. The Akan is the prevailing language in Ghana, the country in the Western Africa. The Akan people have very interesting system of naming children. The review of the academic articles can help to get the insight into the Akan names. The aim of this paper is to discuss the peculiarities of the Akan language and the traditions of naming children in particular.
The Akan Language
The Akan language is interesting from both the linguistic and ethnographic perspectives. Both of them describe the dissemination of the language across the country and among different ethnicities. However, the former is focused on the ethnic groups, for which the Akan is the second language, whereas the later touches upon the ethnicities, which speak the Akan as their native language (Agyekum 2012). The Akan embodies the culture and traditions of the local people. It should be emphasized that the Ghanaian society is multilingual with 76 languages spread all over the country (Agyekum 2012). There are a number of the endangered languages in Ghana.
The weight of people who speak the Akan as their native language accounts for 49.1%, whereas the weight of those, who speak it as the second language is 44% (Agyekum 2012). It is interesting to note that although the Akan is the prevailing language in Ghana, it can be referred to the endangered one due to the significant influence of English and other foreign languages on it as well as on the attitude of local people to their authentic language. In addition, the authentic language is used by the Akans in the limited circumstances. It is not the official language of the country. For these reasons, the Akan language requires the steps taking for its documentation and preservation.
The Akan Names
The Akan language reflects the long history, customs and religious beliefs of the Ghanaian people. The traditions of naming children in Ghana are very interesting. For example, the new family members can be named after the day of the week or after the significant event happened when they have been born. “While western names are predictable, African names are generally not predictable, for until the child is born and under what circumstances it is born, the name cannot be determined with accuracy” (Agyekum 2006, p. 208). For instance, if the child is born during the war, they can be named after the historic event. If you meet the Akan man with the name Bekṍe, it means that he was born during the war. Similarly, the parents can name their children after the day of the week, when they have been born. According to the Akan traditions, the father chooses the name for the child. However, the mother can also participate in the process.
The father usually asks her opinion. The ‘outdooring ceremony’ takes an important place in the Ghanaian culture (Adjah 2011). It is the custom of taking the child out of house. The Akans as well as other Ghanaian ethnicities believe that the infant should not be taken out of the house for the seven days after his birthday because they are closely connected with the spiritual world during this period. If the child survives after the seven days, it is allowed taking them out of the house on the eighth day (Adjah 2011). The spiritual beliefs of the Akan people are interconnected with their naming traditions. It is believed that if the infant survives, they will ‘stay’ in this world and, thus, the name can be given (Adjah 2011). It goes without saying that the name indicates to the individual’s identity. However, in Ghana, the proclamation of the name of the infant indicates to the fact that he has become the member of the social community (Adjah 2011).
The symbolism of the Akan names is reflected not only in the ‘outdooring ceremony’ but also in the meanings of the names themselves. The Akan families are matrilineal meaning that the heredity is traced female. At the same time, the child can be born in honor of different members of the family (Adjah 2011). Furthermore, the infant can be named in honor of the person, with whom they do not have the family ties. The particular suffixes are added to the female names including waa, maa or bea/ba (Adjah 2011).
The scholars say that the name determines the peculiarities of the bearer’s mentality. When the people pronounce the name of someone, he or she perceives the sounds of the name at the psychological level. Thus, many of the psychologists and linguists say that the name partly determines the character of its bearer. “For example, the Akans expect a child named after a dignitary or a chief to behave himself properly so that nobody makes derogatory remarks about the name in attempt to denigrate it” (Agyekum 2006, p.209). That is why the names are said to be the indications of the person’s behavior and attitude to others.
The Akan people believe that the name of the child predetermines their future destiny in terms that it reflects their inner nature. Taking into account these beliefs, the names can be somewhat changed according to the Akan traditions. The appellations and by-names are frequently used by the Akans. The researchers indicate to the concept of indexicality characterizing the Akan naming system (Agyekum 2006). This concept means that the names are closely related to the social and cultural aspects of the Akan community. “In the philosophical sense, Akan names refer to elements of Akan human experience and ways of life” (Agyekum 2006, p. 231). That is why the choice of the name for the child is the crucial one and the naming traditions take an important place in the Akan culture.
In order to sum up all above mentioned, it should be said that the naming system is the integral part of any language. The Akan is the language of the most part of the Ghanaian population. Its naming system is unique and is based on the sociocultural norms and spiritual beliefs of the local people. The ‘outdooring ceremony’ takes an important place in the naming traditions of the Akan people. The child can be named on the eighth day after the birthday. The children are named after the day of the week or the important social event. Overall, it should be said that the Akan naming system reflects the history and culture of the Ghanaian people and provides and insight into their mentality and the way of life.
Adjah, O. A (2011). What Is in a Name? Ghanaian Personal Names as Information Sources. African Research & Documentation, 117, 37-56.
Agyekum, K. (2006). The Sociolinguistic of Akan Personal Names. Nordic Journal of African Studies, 15(2), 206-235.
Agyekum, K. (2012), Documentation and Preservation of the Akan Language. Web.