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A Title’s Not A Name

Ring-ring. You’re in the office. The phone rings. The caller introduces himself as Nii XYZ. Flip it. Introduces herself as Maame ABC. Would you begin to think this person royalty? In 2017 Ghana! Apparently, the Births and Deaths Registry (BDR) would. That institution refuses, in recent times, to register such “titles” as Nana, Nii and (wait for this) Maame! I don’t how common it was in the 1950s. But how has the BDR stood by unconcerned for name-titles to take root in Ghana for more than a half-century? Perhaps every fifth or sixth person has a name-title now. How is there any risk that you’d mistake a person for bleeding blue because they have a name-title? As a regulator, what naming laws does the BDR work with?

There Seems To Be No Law

When questioned about the source of their title-denying power, the BDR says the law. What law? It’s not the BDR’s main statute – Act 301. I’ve read somewhere of a claim about a secondary law – LI 653. Gosh, LI 653 was so difficult to find. Maybe that’s why they hide behind it. But find it did I at the National Archives. And what does it say name-titles? Nothing. LI 772 (another law relevant to BDR)? Zilch. LI 1676? Not a thing. So the law, as it’s written today, does not give the BDR the right to refuse to register baby’s name because it contains a title. It just says register the darn name. And if a parent/guardian won’t register their child’s name, force them to do it. Maybe they will creep onto the field of discretion. Well, they sometimes claim that it’s internal policy. We know one can’t exercise discretion arbitrarily. I struggle to find anything more arbitrary than sleeping while people name their daughters “Maame”, then saying after 70 years: “Maame is banned”. The Maame bar is particularly silly. What does Maame even mean in the royal world? How will its use confuse anyone? Does it say ‘Queen’? Or will a woman without children use “Maame” to obtain charity for her ‘children’?

The laws on ID (passports, national ID cards, etc) do not help the BDR. I was looking for something (anything) to hang the BDR’s weird behaviour on. I found nothing.

A lawyer was trying to register her son’s name at the BDR. They refused to register “Nana Kwame”. First they claimed “law”. To a lawyer! She probed. They downgraded to “internal policy”. She probed the legs of this policy. Where’s it? May I see it? They stepped back some more. You see, the real issue is that a group of traditional rulers sued the BDR in court for giving certificates to every Tom, Dick and Naa. Take a minute to examine that. How much of this do you believe? Ah! So who in the Ghanaian public is so unsuspecting that they think every Nana Kwadwo Bonsu is a chief with swathes of land and gold bullion to sell? That person too dey ooo!

Haha Tales From the Registry

BDR would not let my lawyer friend call his son “Nana” + “Yaw” + family name. But when it was presented to them (again) as “Nanayaw” (i.e. one name) + family name, the rocket scientists accepted it.

Another lawyer friend named his daughter to honour his mother. The name: Anulam + Berenice + family name. Anulam means “A mother’s goodness”. Like, super amazing, right? Perhaps, this example is a bit different. It is not about name-titles. But it’s about abuse of power.

“You can’t put the Ghanaian name in front of the English [sic] name”, said the genius at the BDR.

“Why not?”

“It’s just not done”.

It took forever and a half to win this useless battle. Chale, take your colonised mind (or mindlessness) out of our (taxpayer’s) office.

In another example, they wouldn’t register a baby’s name with the following format: [father’s first name] + [family name] + II. Just like they now refuse to register “Junior” or “Jr” or “Jnr”.

Unacceptable and Inadvisable Names from Other Countries

Now, I am the first to admit that not all names should be registered. Some names will clearly cause problems. Presumed titles; names chosen with the intention of committing fraud; names which may expose the child to ridicule; registered intellectual property (Coca-Cola Asiedu); vulgar or offensive names, etc.

True, some countries have naming laws, and some have naming policies restricting and regulating offensive or embarrassing names, overly long names, cross-gender names, titles, signs and symbols, etc. Some countries have ‘approved’ lists and ‘unapproved’ lists. Some give the open discretion to disallow names for good reason, but provide an appeal mechanism.

So, I’m told the Home Office in the UK will not permit you to use ‘Earl’ or ‘Baron’ in your passport. But how many Englishmen and women do you meet walking around with such names? As often as Ghanaians with Nana and Nii Awura? It’s clear to me that by sitting by unconcerned, and being complicit, even, in registering such names, the BDR has lost the moral (it never really had the legal) right to oppose them. And such names have ‘dropped’ from their lofty heights of royal significance with common    use and overuse. What confusion could they possibly cause? Is there really a problem?

And There’re Ways Around This Delusion

Of course you can get around the BDR’s tenuous stance. Register the name as Yaw Asiedu for the birth certificate. Later on, do a statutory declaration (which will recites a name change and the reason if any) and change the name to Nana Yaw Asiedu. Finally, have it published in the Gazette (the government’s official information publication). End of. Asa. Finished.

Or try iterations of the “Nanayaw” principle. Ok, maybe they will now catch that one. But maybe people who think a Ghanaian name can’t precede a foreign name won’t detect this either.

Conclusion

The BDR is not all bad, of course. They appear to have introduced online registration! On the naming issues, they’re probably working on policy, not law. The policy on naming may make sense in principle. But not in 2017, when ‘Nana’, ‘Nii’, ‘Papa’, etc are not really titles anymore. They’re lovely metaphors of love, hope, faith. And I maintain that ‘Maame’ was never a title. So, people of the BDR, you’re a regulator in search of an unreal problem to solve. I’ve read in the papers that you won’t go after anybody who already has “Nana’ and other titles in their names. Why not? If they’re breaking the law, they are. Go after them, if you feel you have legal backing. I double-dare you to start with the first gentleman, wae.  When you’re jostling with parents who just want to show their kids some love by giving them metaphorical names like ‘Nana’, you’re mistaking windmills for evil giants.

 

  • I know someone who is legit called Prof. As in his parents named him Prof. I wonder what the birth and death register people would think about this.

    I’ve heard this thing about your Gh name can’t be first. This came up when I was registering for BECE. I rarely use my “English” name. I find it ridiculous that because of this weird “Gh name can’t be first” I’m stuck with writing a name I don’t identify with as my first name when filling official forms.

    • I also know a “Pope”. And I see nothing wrong with it. As for “put your African name second”, I’ll say no more before I call a group of people a strong word. Thanks for sharing your comment.