WANNER: What’s in a name? Shakespeare wasn’t African, Aidoo is
What you need to know:
- If someone takes their time to attend our event — even if it is in their honour — we owe it to them to ensure that we have everything done as much to their satisfaction as possible.
- If you invite a guest to dinner and they say they do not eat chillies and you proceed to put chillies in all the food then they refuse to eat it and depart, you cannot blame your guest.
- Finally, it is sad that there are people who say she should have used it as an opportunity to ‘correct’ and ‘teach’.
- Ms Aidoo was a teacher and is a writer. At 74, she is in retirement from teaching.
A couple of weeks ago in Kampala, I met someone for the first time.
“I am Zukiswa,” I introduced myself.
“May I call you Zu?” she asked.
I answered in the negative.
Zukiswa is my name.
It’s the name I was given at birth as homage to my late aunt. It is pronounced phonetically, but even if it were not, unless I know you well enough and I say, ‘You can call me Zuki’ or ‘Zu’ or whatever else, I am Zukiswa.
I thought of this when news of Ama Ata Aidoo’s walkout from an event honouring her and hosted by University of Ghana’s Centre for Gender Studies and Advocacy was reported. For a bit of background, the centre is celebrating its 10th anniversary and they decided to honour one of Ghana’s literary icons by having an Ama Ata Aidoo short story competition.
So far so good.
Except, on the day of the event, Ama Ata Aidoo arrived and both the banner and the programme cover had spelt her name as Ama Atta Aidoo.
Ms Aidoo has previously protested this bastardisation of her name many times. Anyone who has read interviews she has done knows this. This time, she protested by walking out.
So what is in a name?
Did Ama Ata Aidoo overreact over an extra ‘t’ in her name and should she just have taken a marker and humorously crossed out the extra ‘t’ on the banner as she handed over the awards to the five young short story winners, as someone have suggested?
I can attempt to answer based on how I would have reacted.
A lot is in a name.
A name is a core part of one’s identity.
Shakespeare may have said “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” but he was not African.
He never went through a naming ceremony, as many Africans still do, for a newborn child.
Some Ghanaian friends tell me that the Twi have Atta but Ms Aidoo’s name, Ata, is Fante so it was all the more necessary to be careful because her name shows her ethnicity, which is part of her identity.
I fail to comprehend why this was difficult for many who berated Ms Aidoo to understand.
But there is more to this than just the name.
We need to value people’s time.
If someone takes their time to attend our event — even if it is in their honour — we owe it to them to ensure that we have everything done as much to their satisfaction as possible. If you invite a guest to dinner and they say they do not eat chillies and you proceed to put chillies in all the food then they refuse to eat it and depart, you cannot blame your guest. Finally, it is sad that there are people who say she should have used it as an opportunity to ‘correct’ and ‘teach’.
Ms Aidoo was a teacher and is a writer. At 74, she is in retirement from teaching.
She spent her life teaching and if people were listening, she would be rocking up at events that honour her without being expected to teach or correct or be the “bigger person”. It also suggests being accustomed to mediocrity.
It is these sorts of excuses that have junior lecturers in universities being pushed to give pass marks to students who have performed dismally, resulting in graduates who cannot write a curriculum vitae to save their lives.
Would Harvard University have got away with spelling Toni Morrison or John Updike’s incorrectly? Would the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London get away with writing Nurrudin Farah and Amitabh Ghosh’s names wrongly even as they honoured them? And yet we are quite fine with misspelling the name of one of Ghana and Africa’s most iconic literary persons.
According to communication from those close to them, the organisers had noted the misspelling but as they had received the misspelt banner and programmes at the last minute, they made a decision to use them with the error. If that is the case, it is still problematic. I imagine the organisers set the date of the event way in advance, why were the banner and the programme not done timeously?
So yes. While the addition of an extra ‘t’ to a name seems like a small thing, it is, in fact, not. It speaks of disrespect for others’ identity and a lack of professionalism. We can, and deserve better and should hold all service providers and our institutes to the highest world standards if we are serious about competing with the rest of the world and truly making this an African century.
Zukiswa Wanner is a South African author based in Kenya. [email protected]