Feature Article

In partial defence of the Births and Deaths Registry and in total defence of ‘Nana’

For the purposes of this article, reference to “Nana” and “Nii” also covers Awulae, Naa/Naaba, Nene, Nenyi, Ohemaa, Togbe/Togbi/Torgbui and other chiefly titles.

It is a reaction to comments and observations made by the distinguished Prof. Opanyin Kofi Agyekum, Dean of the School of Performing Arts, University of Ghana, Legon, as well as the statement on the issue of Name registration in Ghana presented to Parliament by the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development on Tuesday, January 30, 2018 as captured in the following day’s edition (page 3) of the generally reliable “Daily Graphic”. 

Prof. Agyekum is a well-respected authority on Akan/Ghanaian cultural practices and usages. Because of his informed insights, I make it a point to listen to Peace FM’s Kokrokoo slot every Tuesday and Thursday and feel disappointed, unfulfilled and short-changed on those occasions when he does not turn up for the programme. Indeed, I so admire him that I have “followed” him since his Radio Univers days more than 20 years ago. It is, therefore, with a sense of trepidation that I unwisely “take him on” in this instance; akin to a David (me) and Goliath (he) mismatch.

The views expressed by Prof. are, as to be expected, shared by the overwhelming majority of Ghanaians, a situation which has compelled the minister of Local Government and Rural Development to direct the Births and Deaths Registry to suspend the implementation of the registry’s existing Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) which, among other prohibitions, forbids the registration of Nana/Nii as names.

Nana and Nii

First of all, we must agree that Nana and Nii are titles, not ordinary words or names. They are acquired, not assumed. In Akan culture, Nana is acquired through chieftaincy or conferred on grandparents, as well as on old men and women as a mark of respect.

In principle, parents should have the inviolable right to officially give their offspring any name of their choice. As the saying goes, however, “To every rule, there is an exception.” The exception in the name registration exercise ought to be that a name which is a title cannot be officially registered as a first name in order not to create the misleading impression that the person so named actually holds that title. Thus, whereas a parent may delight in honouring the memory of his beloved father by naming his equally beloved son after him, such a son may be affectionately called Nana Mensah or Nii Kpakpo at home by relatives, friends and other relations but cannot have Nana/Nii registered as his first name. 

In his radio contributions to the debate (Peace FM, Tuesday, January 23 and Asempa or Atinka – I cannot now remember which – Monday, January 29), Prof. Agyekum argued that Nana could be used as a name, even as a first name, because chiefs used other titles. He cited as examples Otumfuo (Asante), Osagyefuo (Akyem Abuakwa) and Daasebre (Kwahu). We must, however, remember that all these our revered traditional rulers are first and foremost “Nana”. Other titles such as Kantamanto, Katakyie, Oblempong, Odeefuo, Odeneho, Ogyeahoho, Osabarima and Oseadeeyo are titles which have been assumed in recent times by some of our chiefs as the spirit has moved them.

To further buttress his viewpoint, Prof. Agyekum also alluded to some of his colleague academics at Legon having Nana/Nii as part of their names as well as the venerable Prof. Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Coast and Minister of Education. I suspect that if we were to check the Prof.’s birth certificate, Naana would be nowhere to be found although she may have always been fondly called Naana at home by kith and kin. The fact that these learned personalities may have Nana/Nii/Naana as their first names does not make it right. As Prof. Agyekum himself is wont to say: “Adee aa onye de, na onye,” (to wit: “What is wrong is wrong”).

Besides, it is logically sensible for forms to routinely specify only “Mr/Miss/Mrs” because, by convention, every human being, on attaining the age of majority/maturity, is either “Mr” (if male), “Miss” (if unmarried female) or “Mrs” (if married female) and so automatically falls into one or the other of the “Mr/Miss/Mrs” categories. 

Incidentally, has anyone ever heard of our current Head of State being referred to as Mr Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo. No? Why not? It is simply because we consider “Nana” as his title; so we do not prefix his “Nana” with “Mr”.

Standard Operating Procedure

The Births and Deaths Registry may have had a good case for implementing the Standard Operating Procedure as far as it pertains to the non-registration of Nana/Nii as first names. To, however, extend the ban to cover such gorgeous names as Adom and Nhyira is biting more than the registry can chew. How can the registry, on the one hand, justify registering “Nyamekye” (God’s gift) but on the other, reject Adom (God’s Grace) or Nhyira (God’s blessing)? Still, why is the registry raising a red flag against Junior (Jnr)? If you have the good fortune of being called Kwaku Adjetey Fuseini and you decide to name your son exactly after you, a convenient and accepted means of differentiating between father and son (with apologies to the great Barima Azumah Nelson) is to name the son Kwaku Adjetey Fuseini Jnr. What does the registry find problematic about this?

The two opening paragraphs of the Daily Graphic reportage on the sector Minister’s interaction with Parliament state as follows: (Quote) “The acting Registrar of the Births and Deaths Registry has been directed to register names such as Nana, Nii, Papa and others as given by parents to their children.

“The Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development which gave the directive, further asked the Births and Deaths Registry to limit itself to the non-registration of OFFICIAL (capitals mine) titles and prefixes such as President, Reverend, Doctor, Minister, Miss, Mrs, General, Honourable, among others.”(End of Quote.)

Does the ministry view President, Reverend, Doctor etc. as OFFICIAL titles merely because these are depicted in the Queen’s English while Nana and Nii are not considered official titles on account of being Ghanaian? What a pity looking down on our own mother tongues! One also wonders how and why on earth “Honourable”, as in Hon. Asimasi Kon Ke Kenam, Assembly Member for Adabraka, can be an official title which must not be registered as a name, while the “Nii” in Nii Adjabeng, Adabraka Mantse and overlord, is not treated as a title and can, therefore, be used “by heart” as a registered name. (Nana Kwaku Dei, Nkosuohene of Pakro and acting Managing Director of Graphic Communications Group Limited, tenant of Nii Adjabeng, over to you!!!)

Reflecting the prevailing thinking of Parliament as a whole, both the Majority Leader and Minority Leader concurred with the ministry’s directive to the Births and Deaths Registry to refrain from enforcing the Standard Operating Procedure ban on registering Nana/Nii as names. Judging from our usual partisan parliamentary divisions, such a rare meeting of minds between the Majority and the Minority means “case closed”. Nonetheless, in conclusion, it is suggested for the consideration of Parliament, the sector ministry and the generality of Ghanaians that: 

(i) Awulae, Naa/Naaba, Nana, Nene, Nenyi, Nii, Ohemaa, Togbe/Togbi/Torgbui etc. should be recognised as chiefty titles; 

(ii) Only chiefs should, therefore, be permitted to use the aforementioned accolades as prefixes to their stool/skin names; and

(iii) A commoner may include any of the royal titles in his or her registered name but not as the first name so as not to create the wrong, potentially deceitful impression that he or she is a chief or queenmother. In other words, if you are not a chief, you can call yourself Kwaku Adjetey Togbe Fuseini but not Togbe Kwaku Adjetey Fuseini. 

Nananom, President and members of the National House of Chiefs, where are you? Are you going to stand aloof and allow your time-honoured titles to be cheapened and prostituted? 

The writer is a retired Director of the Ghana Civil Service.

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