The Importance of Names in Homegoing

Akan names and their meanings ▷ YEN.COM.GH

By Reina Ackerberg

Homegoing, written by Yaa Gyasi, includes a vast variety of names, varying from extremely short to long, and common to unique. What are names? And why are they important? According to the Equity and Inclusion Office of British Columbia, “Our names are an incredibly important part of our identity. They carry deep personal, cultural, familial, and historical connections. They also give us a sense of who we are, the communities in which we belong, and our place in the world.” These name values directly connect to Ashanti and Fante name traditions. 

Homegoing is centered around African and African-American heritage and customs. The first few characters mentioned in the book, Effia and Esi are two women born in the Ashanti region of Ghana, the names given to them highlight their identities and personalities. In Ghana there are Ashanti and Fante traditions of naming children based on the day they were born. Along with “Day Names” there are many traditions for middle names which often correlate with their birth order in their family, along with traditional names passed down from ancestors or other family members. According to a website entitled “Everything You Need to Know About the Ghanaian Tradition of Day Names.”,  within Ashanti and Fante homes, Monday born children have names associated with peace, Tuesday names are associated with the ocean, Wednesday names are associated with spiders (Ananse’), Thursday names are associated with the earth, Friday names with fertility, Saturday names with God’, and Sunday names are associated with the universe.

Within the story Esi, half sister to Effia,  daughter of Big Man and Maame, has an Ashanti name correlating with a Sunday born name, referencing her being born on a Sunday and having a name that is associated with the universe. Similarly Kojo, son of Sam and Ness, is said to have been born on a Monday, “Ma had explained it was the Asante name for a boy born on Monday.” (118) 

Yaa Gyasi created a large importance to the characters’ names, helping to make their importance in the book even more prominent through the uniqueness of each of their names and identities. Although western societies don’t often have name traditions quite as specific as Ghanaian name traditions, parents and religions have a large effect on the names of children. Does your name have a specific meaning? Does it help to portray your identity? 

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