About 5 weeks ago, I was contacted by an individual from Ghana who claimed the Birth and Death Registry in Accra has a new policy that prohibits staff from issuing birth certificates to parents whose children have names such as Nana, Ewurama, Papa and others—claiming these are not substantive names, rather, mere titles.
Shockingly, the same Birth and Death Registry was allowing children with names such as King, Prince, Queen, Duke, Empress and others to be registered—when these are also titles, except they are in English, I was told.
I made several calls to people who work with the Birth and Death Registry to ascertain if any official memo or policy had been instituted, backing this position. And unfortunately, I could not get any of the people I spoke with to provide me with a copy of an official document in this regard.
However, the refusal to register children with the mentioned names was not a case in isolation to the person who contacted me, it has cropped up again on social media.
This time, Dennis Adjei, a Ghana based lawyer has taken to social media to express his disappointment in what has become an acceptable practice at the Birth and Death Registry in Ghana—in refusing to register names parents choose for their children.
Yaw Appau shared his experience on this issue by commenting on Adjei’s post, saying; “Yes, I’m with you. They insisted on not registering Nana, my son’s first name. I challenged them to show me the law which bars such names. There was none. They then brought a manual produced by one of their directors. I told then that in the absence of a statute barring people from such names, the manure had no basis in law. Eventually, they succumbed and registered him.”
It, therefore, seems that indeed the Death and Birth Registry is clandestinely failing to allow parents to register certain names on the back of the groundless arguments that these names are mere titles when the same institution registers names which are titles, presented in English.
Interestingly, names such as Brenya, Abebrese, Donkor and the many which capture negative struggles, some of which are anguish related continue to be registered without any obstacles.
In most part of the world including Ghana and as a matter of public policy, certain offensive names are prohibited from being registered for humans or businesses. And without an exhaustive list of such names, Registrars have a wide discretion to apply common sense when registering new names.
But it’s difficult, perhaps even impossible to deduce any offence that these names which have long been allowed to be registered in Ghana carry now—such that they’ve been banned by any internal policy.
Prof Ewurama Addy
If the argument by Ghana’s Birth and Death Registry is that Nana, Papa, Ewurama and others are mere titles and not substantive names hence should not be registered anymore, then changing these names into English or any other language to become Chief, King, Togbe and others should not be allowed for registration too.
It has long been a right of parents to choose whatever decent name they want for their children in Ghana just as in many other countries—making it possible for Ewes to have sometimes queer names like Forgive, God is Great, Gods Love, Faithful, Heartwill, Shine and many others.
Section 4 of the Children’s Act 1998states, inter alia that, “Right to name and nationality. No person shall deprive a child of the right from birth to a name…” Of course, even though this Act does not provide that every name ought to be allowed to be registered, it can be interpreted to mean any reasonable chosen names by parents ought to be recognised and registered by the State.
The issue is, even more, dicier as Ghana recognises customary laws, under which one can argue that names such as Nana, Ewurama, Papa, Owura and others serve paramount importance and as such any policy restricting their recognition and registry is a violation of the customary laws of Ghana.
From all indications, this is some sort of internal policy at the Birth and Death Registry but until proven otherwise, it seems to lack grounds.
Ghanaians should be allowed to register whatever names they choose for their children unless it can be shown that these names contravene existing laws or are offensive. No state agency should arbitrarily refuse to recognise or register submitted names as the Birth and Deaths is reported to be currently doing.