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Unveiling the Beauty of the Ghanaian Akan Naming System: A Cultural Journey

Step into a world of ancient tradition and cultural heritage as we embark on a journey through the mystical realm of Ghanaian naming. Discover the unique Akan naming system, steeped in historical significance, philosophical depth, and theoretical rigor. Explore the interplay between the age-old traditions and the impact of modern Western and Arabic names, as individuals rediscover their roots and reclaim their ancestral identities. Immerse yourself in the lively outdooring ceremony, where families celebrate the naming of their newborns with joy, pride, and cultural reverence. Join me as I share my personal insights and experiences, taking you on a thrilling adventure through the heart of Ghanaian culture.

As a Ghanaian, I have always found it fascinating how people from different cultures and countries are always curious about our naming system. And, I can’t blame them, it is quite unique and holds a lot of meaning. In Ghana, names are chosen with great care and often have a deeper meaning. I myself, have a name that always sparks interest, Yaw. It’s my day name given to me because I was born on a Thursday. But, that’s not all, I also have another name, Papa Yaw, which is a way of showing respect and honour to those who have earned it. The Ghanaian naming system not only identifies a person, but it also tells a story of culture, tradition, and ancestry.

The structure of Ghanaian names typically includes three parts: the given name, the day name, and the surname or family name. The given name, also known as the “Christian name,” is typically chosen by the parents and is often of Western or Arabic origin. These names are usually chosen based on personal preference or religious beliefs.

The day name, also known as the “native name,” is given to the child based on the day of the week on which they were born. These names are usually of traditional Ghanaian origin and have specific meanings associated with them. For example, a person born on a Thursday may be given the day name “Yaw,” which means “born on Thursday.” The surname or family name is the last name of the individual, and it is usually inherited from the father’s family. In some cases, it may also be inherited from the mother’s family. The surname is often used to indicate the family’s origins or social status.

The names of the days of the week in Akan culture are derived from the names of deities and their days of worship, and follow a pattern of deity name + -ada, meaning “day.” This pattern is also seen in other Indo-European languages such as English, Italian, French, German, and Norwegian, and is believed to have originated from the Proto-Indo-European language.

In Akan, there are two forms of these seven-day names, one for females and one for males, and they are present in both the Twi and Fante dialects. Some names overlap between the two dialects, while others have distinct forms. In rare cases, the birth day name may be altered if the person the child is being named after has a different birthday and to avoid confusion.

It is worth noting that the Akan naming system reflects their beliefs about the connection between a person’s soul and their destiny, as well as the importance of the day they were born in shaping who they are and what they will become.

Table 1. Akan Days and Birthday Names for Males and Females


It’s not just my name that interests people, but the whole system. The way we give children names based on the day they were born, the meanings behind those names, and the significance of middle names. And let’s not forget the outdooring ceremony, which is a celebration of the naming and the introduction of the child to the community.

The names assigned to individuals born on a specific day are believed to reflect the attributes and philosophy associated with that day. For instance, someone born on Monday is expected to be peaceful, while someone born on Friday is thought to be adventurous, and someone born on Saturday is considered creative. The responses listed in the table are used by older individuals when addressing someone whose birthday name they know. This confirms the hypothesis that Akan names in Ghana are not arbitrary labels but have connections to their sociocultural context.

Table 2: Akan Birthday Names and Their Appellations

Male NameMale AppellationFemale NameFemale AppellationResponse
KwasiBodua/Obueakwan (agility)AkosuaDampo (agility)Awusi (agility)
KwadwoOkoto/Asera (peace)AdwoaBadwo/Akoto (peace)Adwo (peace)
KwabenaOgyam/Ebo (friendliness)AbenaaKosia, Nimo (friendliness)Abra (friendliness)
KwakuAtobi/Daaku/Bonsam (evil)AkuaObirisuo/Obisi/Daakuo (evil)Aku (evil)
YawPreko/Pereba (brave)YaaBusuo/Seandze (brave)Awo (bravery)
KofiKyini/Otuo/Babne/Ntiful (wanderer/traveller)AfuaBaafi/Nkso (wanderer/traveller)Afi (wanderer/traveller)
KwameAtoapoma, Teanankannuro (combat ready, snakebite herbalist)AmmaNyamewa/Adoma (creation/grace)Amen (creation)

Ghanaian names, or personal names in Ghana, consist of several given names and surnames based on the language of ethnic groups in Ghana, including Akan, Mole-Dagombas, Ga, Ewe and Nzema. These day names have further meanings concerning the soul and character of the person. Middle names have considerably more variety and can refer to their birth order, twin status, or an ancestor’s middle name. These names are also used among Ghanaians living abroad and among Africans living in the diaspora who wish to identify with their ancestral homeland. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the enslaved people from modern-day Ghana in the Caribbean were referred to as Coromantees.

Most Ghanaians have at least one name from this system, even if they also have an Arabic or western name. Notable figures with day names include Ghana’s first president Kwame Nkrumah and former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Twin names often have a specific meaning or symbolism. The names may be chosen based on the order of birth, gender, or other characteristics of the twins. It’s also worth mentioning that, in Ghana, it is considered very important to give a child a meaningful name, and so the names of twins might be chosen to reflect their characteristics, or the circumstances of their birth.

In the Akan naming system, it is common to give children titled names such as Nana, Papa, or Maame. This is because these names are not just reserved for adults who hold positions of leadership or are respected members of the community. They can also be given to children to symbolize the high expectations and hopes that their parents and community have for their future. The titled names are seen as a way to bless the child and encourage them to grow into a respected and honoured member of the community, just like the adults who hold these titles. In this way, the titled names serve as a form of respect and honor, as well as a motivator for the child to live up to the expectations and hopes of their family and community.

The uniqueness of the Akan naming system lies in its deep connection to the culture and history of the Akan people. The system is based on the belief that a person’s name has a direct impact on their personality and character, and that the day of their birth is an important factor in determining their destiny. It reflects the beliefs, values, and traditions of the Akan people, and is an important part of their identity. This is something that is not found in Western or Arabic names, which are not rooted in the culture and history of a particular people.

Family names among the Akan people in Ghana are based on twelve patrilineal clans and are given to children by their fathers. The name is usually discussed with the father’s parents, but the father may also consult with his wife. The family names are derived from ancient deities worshipped by the Akan ancestors and the first morpheme “bosom” in each name means “deity.” Members of the same patrilineal clan are expected to have similar family names. It’s possible to have male and female versions of a name by adding a suffix, such as “-waa” or “-maa.” There are also some names that have the same form for both males and females. In naming ceremonies, the child’s name is chosen and often reflects the name of a family member or a significant event.


However, with the arrival of Western and Arabic influence, the Akan naming system has come under threat. Many parents are now choosing to give their children Western or Arabic names, rather than traditional Akan names. This trend is particularly noticeable among urban and educated families, who see Western and Arabic names as a sign of modernity and progress.

Furthermore, the Akan naming system is unique in the way it reflects the nature of the child’s soul and character, and how it is closely tied to the day of the child’s birth. This is not found in other naming system around the world. The Akan naming system has a strong philosophical and theoretical underpinning, rooted in the beliefs and values of the Akan people. The ontology of the system is based on the belief that a person’s name has a direct impact on their soul and character. This belief is rooted in the Akan concept of “Sunsum,” which refers to the spiritual essence of a person. According to this belief, a person’s name is intimately connected to their Sunsum and can influence their destiny.

The epistemology of the Akan naming system is based on the idea that names are not just labels, but are also a means of understanding and interpreting the world. In this system, names are not just given, but are also chosen and reveal a lot about the individual’s personality, character and soul. This is why the day of the week on which a child is born plays such an important role in determining their name.

As people grow older and gain more understanding about the meaning of their name, they may go back to their Akan name. This is particularly true for those who have spent time abroad or have been exposed to Western culture. They may have been given Western or Arabic names when they were young, but as they grow older they begin to appreciate the deeper meanings and connections of their traditional Akan name.

The outdooring ceremony, also known as the “Naming Ceremony,” is a significant event in the Akan naming system. It is the formal event where a child’s name is officially given and the child is presented to the community. The ceremony is usually held a few weeks or months after the child is born, and it is a joyous occasion that is celebrated with family and friends.

During the outdooring ceremony, the child’s parents will present the child to the community and the child’s name will be announced. The name is chosen based on the day of the week on which the child was born and its meaning will be explained to the guests. The child will also be given additional names that reflect their birth order, twin status, or an ancestor’s middle name.

In relation to the philosophical and theoretical underpinning of the Akan naming system, the outdooring ceremony is the moment when the child’s name is formally given and connected to their soul and character. It is also the moment when the child is officially presented to the community and their name is shared with the community. The ceremony is also an opportunity for the child’s family to celebrate the child’s arrival and to share their joy with the community.

The outdooring ceremony is an important aspect of the Akan naming system. It is the formal event where a child’s name is officially given and the child is presented to the community. The ceremony is a joyous occasion that is celebrated with family and friends and it is an opportunity for the child’s family to celebrate the child’s arrival and to share their joy with the community. It is also an opportunity for the name to be connected to the soul and character of the child, and to be shared with the community.

In summary, the Akan naming system is rooted in the belief that a person’s name has a direct impact on their soul and character. It is based on the Akan concepts of Sunsum and names as a means of understanding and interpreting the world. As people grow older, they may return to their traditional Akan names as they come to appreciate their deeper meanings and connections.

In conclusion, the Akan naming system is an important tradition that is deeply rooted in the culture and history of the Akan people. However, it is facing a threat from the influence of Western and Arabic names. It is important for Ghanaians to recognize the uniqueness and value of their traditional naming system and preserve it for future generations.

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