When I arrived to Ghana, one of the first things I was asked by a fellow staff member was, “Do you know what day you were born?” I thought that was a silly question…of course I knew my birthday! Then I realized I was not being asked my date of birth, I was being asked which day of the week I was born. That was information I did not know, but after a quick search on the internet, I discovered I was born on a Monday (much to my dismay, I was hoping for Saturday.)
The reason this question was asked was not because my new coworkers were seeking some random trivia about me, but because in Ghana, everyone has a “day name.” A day name, as it title suggests, corresponds with the day of the week a person was born. I am Adwoa (pronounced “Adjua”), meaning a Monday born female. There are seven names for men, and seven for women. When I introduce myself, I now do so by saying that I am “Adwoa Megan.”
The Ashanti region is not the only region of Ghana to use the day names. In fact, upon further investigation, Ghana is not the only country to use day names. While the actual names vary depending on the local language, day names is found in other West African countries like Benin and Togo. Even Jamaica uses them!
What struck me most when I first learned of the concept of day names was that they corresponded with the Gregorian calendar, something that was not introduced in Ghana until the colonizers arrived. Upon asking some Ghanaian friends, I discovered that the day names are a very old tradition, but the concept was reworked during colonial times to suit the western calendar.
For anyone planning on traveling to Ghana, do yourself a favor and google you the day you were born ahead of time. It would also be beneficial to learn your day name. This will be beneficial to you for a number of reasons. First, many Ghanaians love it when foreigners introduce themselves using their day name. Second, there’s a good chance that they will struggle to pronounce your name as much as you struggle to pronounce Ghanaian names, so it will save everyone a bit of trouble if you are familiar with day names. Finally, Ghanaians love it when they find someone who has the same day name. Despite the fact that when speaking to someone of the same gender there’s a one in seven chance that your name will be the same, it’s still a fun commonality and a great conversation starter.
Here is a list of the Twi day names for the Ashanti region. What’s yours?