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What's in a name? Akan Child Naming Traditions Embrace African Ancestry

The Akan people of Ghana, West Africa name their children as a symbolic expression and to tell a family's story

As Black History month draws to a close, one of the most lasting ways to embrace continued connection to Africa is through the naming of one's children. Naming children carries deep significance among the Akan tribe of Ghana, West Africa.   It is a centuries old practice that connects children to their cultural roots, and provides the basis for their individual and collective identity. 

Akan naming tradition asserts that the newborn undergoes an important transition from spirit to true human form in the first seven days following birth.  This is considered a fragile period in the newborn's life because it poses the highest risk for infant death.  During this period, the mother and child stay at home while the child remains unnamed.  It is also considered bad luck to name the child, or utter the name during this period.  Once the seven days have passed, they host a naming ceremony o to share the name with loved ones, and receive blessings and gifts for the newborn.     

 A child may be given many names, all of which connote cultural, religious, familial, ancestral, and or astrological connection to the tribe.  However the child is named, the name  comes with a story.  Children may be named based on the circumstances of their birth.  For example, if a couple has a child after trying to conceive for a long time, they may give the name Nhyira, which means “God’s blessing".  Nyambura, meaning queen of rain may be given to a child  born during the rainy season.  The name may also reflect the families’ mood, may give an emotional warning, describe the birth order, connote faith, or to give respect to elders.  It is also not uncommon for other family members to contribute nicknames - each telling their own special story.

Even before the parents and families give the child a name, the child already has a name assigned based on the day of the week they were born.  The day-born-names as they are called may differ slightly based on ethnic group and may not appear on official documents.

Monday - Kodwo(male), Adwoa (female)

Tuesday - Kwabena (male); Abena (female)

Wednesday - Kwaku (male); Ekua (female)

Thursday - Yaw (male); Yaa (female)

Friday - Kofi (male); Efua (female)

Saturday - Kwame (male); Ama (female)

Sunday - Akwesi (male); Akosua (female)

For example, a person male / female born on Wednesday are called Kwaku(or Kweku) and Ekua respectively.  These names are derived from the Akan words kwaa, meaning servant, and eku, meaning planet Mercury. The full name of a Wednesday-born is Asamantwi Abaa Kweku/Ekua, translating to "ancient rod”.  The rod symbolizes authority, and Mercury represents communication, intellect, and memory.  People named Kweku/Eku are thought to grow into charismatic leaders, acknowledging and embracing their own greatness.  The day-name implies a spiritual connection to the universe, and pays homage to a cosmic order that we humans are a part of.

This deeper meaning behind the Wednesday born name is echoed by the Adinkra symbol Adinkrahene.  Adinkrahene is considered the Chief of Adinkra Symbols as conveyed by the Akan word hene/ohene, meaning chief. It symbolizes leadership, authority, and wisdom -- all qualities embodied by a chief and integral to the wellness of a community.  The Adinkrahene symbol features three concentric circles that represent an onion.  Similar to onions, every individual’s identity is made up of overlapping layers that govern our thoughts, beliefs, and actions.  Adinkrahene serves as a reminder to delve into these layers within ourselves, to keep discovering and rediscovering our greatness in order to embrace a path to a successful life.



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