They would rather I called her Akua Bruwaa or Yaa Nyarko Abronoma, which doesn’t say much for identity, except the indication of the day of birth. Yaw Broni has a lighter skin than all her siblings. Sometimes they call her Red. Yet, an albino is never called Obroni. Meanwhile if anybody tried to call their son Jesus Boakye, he will be mocked and teased. He would be called funny, just like they mocked my daughter’s. Is Kofi Yesu not mocked simply because Yesu is understood as a vocabulary item in our local dialect? Why is the Jesus of Nazareth connection lost on us when we address Mr Yesu? I was, therefore, expecting a more humane appreciation of Sonnet as a good name for a girl.
Last week, I discussed the ban on second-hand clothes and suggested that we do well to ban second-hand scholarship as well. Immediately, a commentator wrote that I was also doing second-hand work by writing from far away Canada and refusing to advance any solutions to the problem. Then, a respected writer who is noted, and perhaps, admired for her hyperbolic poetic rendition of many things, fumed: “Funny Name-Sonnet: Oh Ghanafo.” As is her custom, she left it at that, without supplying a single line to explain what Ghanaians had done wrong this time. We were left to decipher the import of a statement invested with so much suspicion, which also betrayed her many phobias.
The other day, she let herself goof: Think of colonialism! This was after I had lambasted Ghanaian cyber fraudsters and their Caucasian victims. Anyhow, I was confident that if nobody saw reason in Sonnet as a great name for a young girl, a poet would appreciate that perhaps the parents of the girl must have loved poems of 14 stanzas. For, among other things, that is exactly the consideration that informed the choice of Sonnet, especially the Shakespearean sonnets. Yet, if she bore a multi-syllabic traditional name, the translation of which means Sonnet in the English language, it would have sat well with traditional thinking. This, in a way, is second-hand conventional wisdom.
Perhaps, the convention is to emphasise an unadulterated traditional identity by wearing tradition on your sleeves: shunning Bible and English first names and blaming colonialism for postcolonial mistakes. They are also those who go lengths to prove that Jesus Christ was black until they painted him white to aid the sale of the Bible. It may help that our names sometimes say the particular tribes we come from. But tribal hatred starts from those differences–in tribe, names, and culture. It is also the reason why somebody would be so proud of her name and think of another person’s as funny.
In any case, when we talk of traditional Ghanaian identity, what exactly do we mean? It is the person in you more than the name you slap on yourself or the Kente and Batakari. These days, folks are giving ‘presumptuous’ names like Nhyiraba, Nkunim and Aseda to their children, as if the opposite meanings of these names belong to some others. It is not funny; it tells a certain fatigue in old naming patterns. And they are not that unique.
What is funny is that while Sonnet is so proud of her funny name, most people who pride their African identity on their traditional names do not know the meanings of those names. Somebody suggested that Tawiah is corrupted Ntawiah. Well, stuff happens.
Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin, Ottawa, Canada