CanoeVibes: Why were we so embarrassed by our indigenous names?


On Tuesday, the British people announced a new Prime Minister, Liz Truss. She becomes the fourth in six years and fifteenth since the British Queen took over the reins from her father, more than forty years ago. Her take over from Boris Johnson was smooth and straight forward. Miss Truss, who is said to be a social media ardent, went about putting her team together.

She appointed Kwasi Kwarteng as Chancellor of the Exchequer or Finance Minister. This Kwasi Kwarteng is not Ghanaian. But he has Ghanaian parents and was born in the United Kingdom in the 1970s. He was educated in some of the high-profile academic institutions like Eton College, a school famed for producing some of the country’s high-profile politicians, as well as Prime Ministers.

Mr. Kwarteng has the responsibility of making sure the British economy is healthy, potent, and one that ensure the British people can have more than enough to eat and pay their bills. He is said to be an intelligent person and well-respected within the Conservative Party establishment. “He is white, if you are to ignore the colour of his skin,” a friend said, clutching onto the Evening Standard newspaper which had a whole page dedicated to him, and in circulation at some of the country’s underground train stations.

His new position has somewhat sparked some frenzy among Ghanaians, not so much of those in the United Kingdom, but those home in Ghana. On the night when speculation about him being tipped to occupy the high office emerged, the name ‘Kwarteng’ trended on twitter for some hours.

Momentarily, every Ghanaian became Kwarteng at all costs. Even non-Akans on social media started running around with Kwarteng in their profile. And they are not wrong – after all, who would not want to be associated with a good thing? A particular radio stations in the Ashanti Region, where it is believed his parents might have come, conducted a live phone-in programme and asked listeners who are called ‘Kwarteng’ to tell the public what it will mean for them to have a name that occupies a top position in the British Government.

The station even sent a reporter to a certain home said to be where both parents of the Chancellor were born, schooled and later went abroad. They spoke to a faceless ‘oldman’ who said he knew the parents very well, and that even when Kwasi Kwarteng was born and brought to Ghana as a child, he carried him on his shoulders. The programme went on for close to an hour, and though it sounded odd to me, I somewhat was compelled to accept everything that went on.

Ghana is very small, and from what I have known about the Ghanaian, you cannot put anything past him or her. We love our own even if we have no direct ties with the person.  And from the look of things and based on what I heard on the radio, I will not be surprised if any potential visa applicant to the United Kingdom changes his or her name to a Kwarteng. It may sound hilarious, but it is possible.

A desperate applicant who has been looking for an opportunity to break free from the country of his birth, will not mind contracting a third party to have him change his name to one that he believes will booster his chances. Back in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, every Ghanaian who had hitherto being so low on confidence partly because he or she got bullied for having big ears, became arrogantly proud of the same ear and would walked around town, cocking them to the shock of everyone.

Especially ladies who hid their ears with their stretched and permed hair, went public with them. They were no longer afraid of the insults, bullying or anything close to that. Some were even excited to be labelled “asi-me-si with Obama ear.” Something natural which they were so afraid to own and even display, became the very symbol of grace and their image.

Back in secondary school, I remember the number of times friends with indigenous names publicly objected to them being mentioned. You either call them by their English or foreign names, or you keep mute. There was even rumour that a student went home to beg the parents to given her an English name because she did not have any.

Anytime her own name was mentioned in class, she would frown and give one a dirty look. Her own name was a burden. It was very sad. I must, however, say she was not the only one as others who had indigenous names felt embarrassed by them. But more than twenty years after leaving school, I bumped into this schoolmate of mine at a social event and called her by the English name by which she insisted we addressed her.

She was not amused at all. She walked to me and whispered into my ears: “Osa, you know my real name so stop pretending.” Whatever I wanted to say got trapped in my throat. She then melted away into the crowd with her afro hair, big round earrings, and a black T-shirt with a woven skirt, nicely wrapped around her waist.

She is no longer afraid of her own name.

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