Examining the Legacy of European Names in the Elmina-Cape Coast Area of Ghana
Afroeuropa: Journal of Afroeuropean Studies
Volume 1, Number 3 (2007)
Amma Kyerewaa Akrofi
Texas Tech University
Texas Tech University
The prevalence of European family and place names in Fante areas of Ghana is one of the best known vestiges of the interaction between African and European cultures, but there has been little systematic study of it. The aim of this research was to investigate the European and Europeanized names commonly found in the Cape Coast–Elmina area. Using data obtained from interviews and a variety of written sources, the names were collected, classified, and their linguistic characteristics analyzed. The results of the study show that 1) there is a pervasiveness of such names still used by the citizens of the area under study, 2) the names are classifiable according to origin, and 3) there is a tendency toward hybridization.
1. Ancient Cities Marked by History
The interaction between Europe and modern day Ghana dates back to the fifteenth century. Francis K. Buah (1980) recounts that the Portuguese were the first European power to arrive on Ghana’s shores in January 1471, lured by the rich trade in gold. They operated from Elmina where, in 1492, they built the Sao Jorge da Mina castle and settled for about a century and a half being engaged in trade. Later, the Dutch came and conquered the Portuguese and, after staying there for about half a century, they also left, selling their holdings to the English. Buah further informs us that about a century and a half after the advent of the Portuguese, the English settled in Cape Coast and in 1664 built the Cape Coast Castle. From there they traded in merchandise and slaves and later ruled the colony until the capital was moved to Accra in 1876. Joseph Brookman-Amissah (1972) supports Buah’s account and provides further evidence of other Europeans frequenting the coastal towns of Cape Coast and Elmina. Notable among them were the French, the Danes, the Swedes and even the German Bradenbergers, the latter two staying for only a short time. Therefore, Mylène Rémy and Jean-Claude Klotchkoff’s (1992, 109) description of Elmina and Cape Coast as ancient cities marked by history is appropriate. Rémy and Klotchkoff elaborate this portrayal (1992, 109) with an assertion that the past seems more present than the present itself in both towns. However, in making this statement, Rémy and Klotchkoff’s thoughts seem to dwell more on historical monuments like the castles and forts and colonial architecture than on anything else, as evidenced by the following description of central Elmina as an aggregate of:
old creole-style houses, a totally unexpected Italian palace, and the equally startling statue of a doughty Queen Victoria in the middle of one of the town squares (Rémy and Klotchkoff 1992, 109).
But it is not only the antiquated European architecture that gives the two towns their nostalgic charm. They get their charm also from a unique characteristic –the prevalence of European and Europeanized family names. Buah (1980, 75) referred to this phenomenon as another lasting result of European activities in the country.
It is most intriguing that after 50 years of independence, the people of Cape Coast and Elmina still maintain the pre-colonial and colonial practice of giving European and Europeanised family names to their offspring. However, apart from brief and scattered comments such as the one by Buah quoted above, no systematic study has been made of those names, although they constitute some of the most obvious vestiges of the interaction between Europe and Ghana. This study attempted to establish that the names are an important record not only of that interaction but also of the different European powers who visited that part of the world. We asked the following research questions: 1) what kinds of European and Europeanized names are currently used in the area, 2) why are they used, and 3) what are the future trends? The cordial relationship between the Europeans and the Africans as evidenced by those names is a living testimony of the oneness of humanity, a fact that is often ignored in a world struggling to come to terms with ethnic conflicts and racial intolerance…
…6. Reasons for Adopting European and Europeanized Names
The informants who were interviewed gave five main reasons for adopting European or Europeanized names: European ancestry, conversion to Christianity, acquisition of formal education, to obtain colonial jobs, and miscellaneous reasons. We discuss these below.
6.1. European ancestry
Several of the European names, especially those of Portuguese and Dutch origin, were given directly by European fathers to their children with African women and these have been passed down to the present generation. A very good example of this is the name Bartels, which is common in Elmina. Originally German, it came to Elmina when Governor Bartels, whose family had migrated to Holland earlier, married a Fante woman.2 The Bartels family in Elmina today is descended from the children of this marriage, including Johann Carl Bartels who was a very rich merchant in his day. In addition to this, many families whose histories are not well documented claim direct descent from European forebears, e.g. the LeJeune and Guichard families of Elmina and Cape Coast, respectively. In both cases, as in many others, bi-racial characteristics support the claim…
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