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Feature Article of Monday, 11 February 2013

Columnist: Antobam, Kobina

Nana - What's in a name?

By: Kobina Antobam

As far back as I can remember, Akan children have always called their grandparents Nana. I don’t know why, but when growing up in our family home in the Western Region, we, the grandchildren, called our grandparents Papa and Maame. I later grew up to understand that it was our grandparents’ choice to be called Papa and Maame though my father and mother were also Papa and Maame. Nevertheless, they were still our dear doting grandparents or Nananom.

In the western world, at least in America, toddlers and infants affectionately call their grandparents Nana. But when they grow up, they normally drop the Nana and upgrade the familial identification to Grandpa and Grandma. In Ghana, however, Nana has gone through some strange transformation in recent years to the point where many Ghanaians have now added Nana to their official names. I know that, worldwide, Nana only signifies a relationship identification and not part of official or formal names, except in Ghana, where the prolific adoption of Nana has become absurd and so trite. It seems that the title Nana is being hijacked in a warped desire for respect by some insecure Ghanaians.

Instead of saying their long adopted ceremonial names when addressing chiefs, tradition allows Ghanaians a respectful shortcut to call chiefs Nana. That’s acceptable and understandable in the realm of chieftaincy. But now, politicians and public figures in Ghana believe in achieving instant respectability by adding Nana to their names. Just as the homosexual community in the western world usurped the word “gay” and destroyed its original beauty, proper usage, and its meaning, so also have Ghanaians embarked on a path of irreversible debasement and mediocrity by desperately exacting attention, respect, adoration, and glorification when they add Nana to their names. Nana seems to be a cheap and meaningless adornment, and fawning Ghanaians and the media can’t help but knock over each other and stand eager to oblige them.

Secondly, some Ghanaians have chosen to “uglify” their given names further by adopting a string of strange unpronounceable names in addition to their given and family names. It’s hard to understand what makes them do that. I don’t believe that their parents decided to select a stretch of five or more names that starts with Nana when those “non-chief” Ghanaian babies were born. I believe that, as adults, most of them pick up those additional names randomly themselves simply because they like them.

I will not be specific and cite examples in order that I don’t rile the easily excitable traditionalists who will read this article, but you guys know those Ghanaians who have adopted a long string of names beginning with Nana as if by adopting those highfalutin long ethnic names, which only make sense within the tribe, they are then elevated to some lofty pedestal of decency. These Ghanaians cross all political, tribal, and gender lines. Yes, you know them. Many are your well-known public figures. By the way, I don’t speak your vernacular and I don’t understand all those strange-sounding names (one of the many examples is Kyeretwie), so I don’t want you to explain them to me. I am not interested. I am interested only if you have a different coherent view about the history or evolution of today’s excessive adoption of Nana.

It is often so heartwarming and unpretentious when you hear toddlers call their grandparents Nana. My question then is: other than little kids and adult Ghanaians calling their grandparents Nana, what’s in Nana that is so special that I may want to add it to my given name? I already have two, my first name and my last name, and that’s enough for me. I have been able to get to this point in life without any unnecessary incomprehensible offbeat fanciful additional tribal names.

Good day.

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