Friday, October 30, 2009

What's in a Name......Change

Daniel and Abena aged 2 years: Daniel's family lived next door to us in Swaziland from when I was 2 years. Yes, I know, earring-free I looked like a little boy. The name 'Abena' would instantly send out alarm bells that I was a girl....well, only alarm bells that could be understood in Ghana!

When my big brother Kwabena and I were 12 and 10, we presented a petition to our parents. We had grown tired of our names being mispronounced and butchered all over Southern Africa. We were weary of being different and wanted some English names. I think I had chosen something like Annabelle or Amber. My father laughed for minutes on end and finally the abrupt response came: "No". I was peeved and upset at the time. Now I'm just peeved and upset with myself for coming up with such a ridiculous idea. I love my name. It has always been unique. I have learnt to embrace this unique-ness and suffered through:
  • Ahhhhh-Ben--Naaaaahhh in Southern Africa,
  • Ah-Beeeee-Naa in America and
  • Ap--Nah in the Netherlands.
I will not lie. I myself have not been the best pronouncer of my own name!

Then I moved to Ghana years ago and suddenly my name was no longer unique. It was so common that it raised more curious questions:
  • "Your name is Abena???? Please, what is your other name, your Christian name"
  • "Your name is Abena??? You have really tried. You have come to our country and have adopted one of our local names to fit in"
It did not help that just days before my flight to Ghana, I stood in front of a mirror with a large pair of scissors in my friend Nabs' apartment and did something completely spontaneous. I chopped off all my hair and left myself with a short-cropped hair-cut any Ghanaian Senior Secondary School girl would have been proud of. Of course what I did not realise then was that I was about to be constantly mistaken for a Senior Secondary School girl despite the fact that I was well into my 20s!

If it was not an SSS girl, I was presumed to be visiting Ghana from the US, East Africa or Southern Africa. In those days, natural hair for females 20 years + was quite rare. Eventually I conformed. With time, any traces of an American accent disappeared. My hair grew, it was re-processed and I joined the ranks of the 'weavealicious' to borrow from fellow blogger Sankofa.

Fast forward to the present. Living in Ghana with a name like Abena also comes with some level of familiarity that can be quite annoying. Imagine you go to the bank and are asked to wait and as soon as you are called it is likely to be:

"Abena, please come to Teller 2"


If my name was something like Janet Mensah. I'm pretty sure that it would automatically be:

"Ms. Mensah, please come to Teller 2".


My brother finds that too. At banks, instead of Mr. So and So he is addressed as:

"Kwabena"
, "Kobby" or even more inappropriately "Charle, Kob-Beeeeee".

Of course things are even more interesting for Kwabena since his 1 year old son was also born on a Tuesday. Young Kwabena and his dad Kwabena also share the same middle name so sometimes my family and I get confused about who exactly we are referring to.

Kwabena and Kwabena when Kwabena was 1 month old. Hopefully neither Kwabena (nor Kwabena) will kill me for putting this on my blog.

Having a name that is easy to remember like Abena has also gotten me into some sticky situations. I have met random people in various parts of Ghana for work or in some other random capacity. All they need is the first name, my place of work and they can be sitting on the dusty couch in our office in no time!

When I first started blogging from Ghana, the name Abena was also pretty unique in the blogosphere. Now suddenly there are so many Abenas that I myself get confused: Did I just post that comment? Sounds like me!

I am also very curious... Where are all the Akuas, Amas, Afuas, Adwoas and Yaas in the blogosphere? Is it because I'm more aware of other Abenas? Is it perhaps that us Tuesday-borns are just uniquely creative? Hehehehe!


So finally, I have come to terms with the fact that if I remain as just Abena I am no longer unique. I have had to accept that change is inevitable. Enter Abena Serwaa. Well, until another Abena Serwaa comes along!

Daniel and Abena Serwaa 20++ years later: Please don't tell me I still look like a boy in this picture!

PS: My Cameroonian friend tells me Abena or Abendo is a popular male name in Yaoundé. YIKES. Also, a Danish company markets a brand of adult diapers under the name Abena. Double YIKES!

30 comments:

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

At least you are wearing an earring. lol.

Okay...dividing 10 million women in Ghana (approx) by seven would gives us about 1.4 million. This is the number of Abenas we have in Ghana, assuming that the days of the week are equally shared amongst the women, and that every tribe gives such names. lol.

Sankofa said...

Looove this post! To this day I still tease my brother about his desire to be called "Malachi" instead of his given "Kwaku" when he was about 10. In regards to having a common name, most people know me as Nana but it's not actually my given name. I hated my given name when I was growing up just because I hate people mispronouncing my name so the name remained pretty much unused. However, in the past few years I've started using it more and more because I truly love it and it's nowhere near as common as "Nana". Damn those who can't pronounce it. If they can pronounce vowel-less Eastern European names, then people can damn well pronounce mine!

gamelmag said...

Half of my friends still call me by my middle name "Magnus", although I'd rather have them call me "Gameli". You know what? The name "Gameli" is really simple but I keep meeting people who seem to be struggling with the correct pronunciation!

Rogelio said...

good blog
greeting

Elsa said...

I love this post too! I also wanted to change my name when I was about 10. I'm glad I wasn't the only one.:-)

Nana Yaw Asiedu said...

Abena, know why this is a well-written post (by me)? It is long...ish and yet I read it all at one sitting. And I loved it too. As for your name, it may be said a million times, and it will sound nice a million times.

Maya Mame said...

Abena Serwaa (see how easily I catch on, lol), I hope nobody ever thinks you were named after adult diapers, ha ha ha!

Great post, my Swedish friend Abena had people pronouncing her name right until she told them how it was spelt, suddenly it was Ah-bee-na all the way.

As for me, although a Saturday born, I'm not an Ama, rather have a unique Ga/Akim name that my parents compromised on.

For me though, my Ghanaian name has been something treasured that I'm only called by family members and close friends. These days, I choose not to even share it with anybody who'll just butcher it and annoy me!

Abena Serwaa said...

@Nana F-A: Hahaha! Saved by an earring right? I love the numerical breakdown by the way. Mmm I have always wondered if there is really an equal probability of being born on any day of the week. There must be but have always wondered.

@Sankofa: Malachi instead of Kwaku?
I have always liked that name then I saw Children of the Corn. I like the fact you are embracing your given name!! A very good friend of mine conceals the fact that her middle name is Kyeiwaa like a deep dark secret. All those new Kyeiwaa Ghana films about witches are not helping her situation at all!

Abena Serwaa said...

@Gameli, I have always liked the name "Gameli" and it does seem simple to pronounce. I can't understand why people would struggle! On less they are confused about where to place the stresses if that makes any sense.

@Rogelio: Thanks! Greetings to you too

@Elsa: Indeed Elsa, you were not alone!! Funny how at 10 years old I thought I knew everything. *Ha*

Abena Serwaa said...

Awwww, Nana Yaw, Thank you :) I like Nana Yaw too.

@Maya Mame: Hehehehe! Have just been dreading running into a Danish person familiar with the 'Abena' brand. Its like my Korean friend whose name means male organ in Hindi. As fate would have it, she grew up in INDIA and was teased about it everyday.When she moved to the US for college, every single Hindi speaker in America thought it was their duty to point out the meaning of her name to her. Poor girl.

That is interesting about your Ga/Akim name; must be really unique! I don't blame you for wanting to keep it unbutchered.

novisi said...

Abena is the name!

talk about obsession- and i'd either have a gal or a wife or a baby girl called Abena for 'shizel'! and i nearly did. would try again!

in the last photo you look so feminine you tickle that part of me.

this reads like a beautiful autobiography! very beautifully crafted story!

i would read it again! this time slowly so i don't miss a punctuation mark.

Nita said...

Wonderfuly written, all my life, i was known as fafali till my mum revealed her love for spanish culture and added on Juanita. I was peeved but oh well, its catching on quite well. Great post Abena!

Abena said...

Yes, us Abenas are just uniquely creative! Well now I won't have to wonder if I've had a memory lapse when I go to Sankofa's blog to comment and you've already been there...Abena Serwaa:)
This is a great post!

KeesKennis said...

I have given up on my name being spelt correctly, ever.
Nic Steenekamp.
Nick Steenekamp
Nik Steenekamp
Variations to the n'th degree
A nice variation came from Zambia where they started calling me Oom Nic. I like that.


The seven Danes that I have known during my career in Africa have been classified by me as follows:
1 of 7: True man, had a baby and married.
3 of 7: Knocked up various women and fucked off to other cheap pastures.
2 of 7: Knocked up various women and fucked off to other cheap pastures, and were traced by me and now pay support to their African family.
1 of 7: Still hunting down the filthy predator, will catch him soon.

Nsoromma...Child of the Heavens said...

I must say I too wondered at the number of Abena's simple because I am also one and I wnated it to be my blogger name...then I saw you and the other Abena (what a silly comment, I mean the other Abena who comments on our blog) and thought it would present problems. At least only a max of 1/7 of Ghanaian women are called Abena. I've always felt for the Nana's out there!

Femme Lounge said...

oh yeah, now you look like a girl , lol! so much ado about names.

Abena Serwaa said...

hehehehhe!! Thanks Novisi. As usual, rendering me either full of smiles of speechless! You need to go back and re-capture that Abena. The best were born on Tuesday :) I'm pretty sure I missed lots of punctuations...I'm grammatically defunct. As for the picture, it is safer not to ask!

@Nita: I do think Juanita and Fafali are lovely names!

@Abena: Hehehe! Yes, I think it was on Sankofa's blog too when I got confused! I see Abenas all have good taste...Idris Elba; Big Yum!

Abena Serwaa said...

@KeesKennis: LOL, I love the variations on the name. Oom Nic?! Mmmm not sure I would really dig being called Ouma before I turn 80 myself!
As for the seven Danes you have known in Africa they sound dodgy and also quite fertile.Luckily the couple of Danes I have known have been pretty above board.

@Nsoromma; so you are an Abena too? I should have known. The sample size is increasing for the Abena creativity theory that is fermenting in my head!

@Femme Lounge: thank you! I'm relieved to hear that I look like a girl :) Indeed, much ado about names because they form an important part of our identities and who we are. Well, at least that is what I think.

Nana said...

Hahahah, that was the same reason I changed my name on my blog from "Nana" to "Nana Darkoa". If you think Abena is a common name in Ghana, try Nana....

On the subject of creative Abena's my team mate on Adventures is also Abena...you might have something there you know

Abena Serwaa said...

@KeesKennis; sorry, my Afrikaans is not like it used to be I mixed Oom with Oupa! Tannie right? My apologies.

@Nana; LOL, you are right Nana is like double trouble compared to Abena

Edward of PathGhana said...

Wow. Can you imagine? this is the 2nd time I am reading a post today about names and to make things better, both posts are about the name ABENA. Abena, I think you should check out Abena's post on shel's RUMINATION, it is just as exciting as yours. (I dare not put a link here!! It's not my style)

Abena Serwaa said...

@Edward, *interesting* Will definitely have to check it out. I'm now super-curious..

Emmanuel.K.Bensah II said...

Am so superficial I scrolled down to your beautiful, beautiful face, Abena!! Oh, are you not pretty? Is this why you hate coming to Ghanablogging meetings, cos people like me would need a bucket attached to the hips to drool in?:-))

Now, I must get back to the essence of the post...

Emmanuel.K.Bensah II said...

seriously speaking, I have an intern here who is Abena Serwaa on Facebook. I kid you not...Luckily for you, she does not blog!

Abena Serwaa said...

@EK : Hehehehe! You are too funny! Pictures are misleading, one dimensional and all about the good lighting.In no way an accurate reflection of life. An intern called Abena Serwaa?! Hopefully, if she does discover the joys of the blogosphere it will be under another name.

Emmanuel.K.Bensah II said...

Abena, I appreciate your humility, but here is where I say "kai kai kai kai kai..."

I say it as it is most of the time--and you are a strikingly beautiful young woman. Shame on the guy who cheated you!!

I find Ghanaian women prettier now I have been back home after 5 yrs than before. Donno why...I think they make more effort these days--but I digress.

I am envious of ur 25 comments oh. Oh...Shame on some of us!:-*) I really do hope you can make it to a ghanablogging meeting some day.

As for your brother, I think he might need to do some muscle-building so that people inclined to be unnecessarily familiar might refrain from doing so when they see his size!!:-))

have a lovely weekend!

Abena Serwaa said...

@EK now it is my turn to say KAI!
I don't think I ever blogged about a guy cheating on me! Don't think that has ever happened...mmmm unless you have some inside filla I should know about! *LOL*

Emmanuel.K.Bensah II said...

Abena, oh, foolishness becomes me. I might have mixed you up with another Abena;-) I take it back--but I do re-call a post where you had some guy saying bad stuff about you, or so...it was a couple of posts ago? Whatever the case, my point stands o!:=)

When are we gonna see your bro blogging? Could you entice him to do so?

Abena Serwaa said...

@EK: LOL, I think I know what you are talking about...My bruv does not seem to have time to check emails let alone blog. He just does not embrace procrastination the way I do!

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