Ghana’s former President, John Dramani Mahama, launched his book, My First Coup D’état, in 2012, and shared quite a bit about his life.
In one of the chapters, he spoke about how he came to be named ‘John,’ detailing the circumstances that this Christian name came to overtake his birth-given name, Dramani.
“Our father named all of his children according to tradition. At the outdooring, a wanzam came and performed his portion of the rites. The name I was given at my ceremony was Dramani. I was named after a relative, one of my paternal grand-father’s brothers who had died.
“Naming me after my grandfather was a way to honour his memory, but it was also a way to anoint me with his qualities or traits that were most loved. It was believed that a part of him lived on in me through his name. As a child, and until this day, many of my aunties and uncles would not call me by my primary name. They called me “nana,” which means “my grandfather,” conferring the reverence due him to me, the holder of his name,” portions of his book said.
John Dramani Mahama continued that although he and all his other brothers were not given Christian names at birth, they all eventually had to adopt some due to the structure of education at the time.
He added that his father, who served as a regional commissioner, insisted on it.
“My brother Peter’s given name was Issah, Alfred’s was Abdula, and Adam’s was Adama, after our paternal grandfather.
“My sister’s name was Meri, but we called her Mama. Like our father, they were all made to take Christian names as soon as they started school. Dad, who’d recently been made the regional commissioner, decided to enroll the children at a new school in Tamale that was run by a family of British missionaries. I was not yet living with my father.
“One day, during their first week at the school, Dad gathered my four siblings into the living room. He produced three sheets of paper that he’d received from the school’s headmaster. On each one was written a name, a Christian name. He gave one of the sheets to Mama and told her that the name on the paper would be her Christian name; it was Mary Magdalene. Since Adama had been our grandfather’s name, and since that name had inadvertently become our father’s as well, Dad decided to Anglicise it to Adam for his son. He also gave Adam the Christian name he’d been given, Emmanuel.
“There were two pieces of paper left. Dad asked Issah and Abdulai to each take one of the pieces of paper. Being the oldest, Issah chose first. He took the paper with the name “Peter” on it. Abdulai’s paper had the name “Alfred” written on it. Abdulai said his new name out loud a few times: “AIfred. Alfred. Alfred!” He liked the sound of it,” he added.
He explained further that although he was not present when the names were balloted, he would eventually also get his Christian name.
The only difference between how his brothers got theirs and how he got his, he added, was that the name ‘John’ was suggested by one of his brothers; a decision that their father did not object to.
“Not long after that naming incident, Dad brought my newly “christened” siblings to Damongo to visit Mum and me. The instant our father called me Dramani, Peter wanted to know what my name was. Our father, misunderstanding, looked at Peter strangely and said, “He is Dramani, your brother.”
“Yes, but what is his other name? His Christian name?” Peter asked. Dad told him I didn’t have one. This didn’t sit well with Peter. If they’d been made to assume Christian names, then I should be too.
“What about John? Peter asked. “Like John the Baptist. I think John’ is a nice name for Dramani.”
“’Yes,” Alfred agreed. “I think John’ would be a good name for him.”
“Our father didn’t protest or disagree. I think that’s because he knew it would merely be delaying the inevitable. I’d have to be given a Christian name when I began attending school, so why not do it now and why not have it be “John”?
“After his tenure as regional commissioner, while awaiting the announcement of his next government post, my father moved the family south to the capital, Accra. I joined them there and started attending school. Interestingly, neither of the two schools I attended in Accra required me to have a Christian name. Everybody continued to call me Dramani. It wasn’t until I entered secondary school that the name became an active part of my life.
“When my dad’s political career came to an end, our family returned north to Tamale. At my new school, my name was written on the enrolment roster as “Mahama, John Dramani.” Since my teachers and classmates were not people who had ever known me as Dramani, they latched onto John as my primary name. That is how I became John Mahama. The name “Dramani” effectively got lost until I entered politics and started to use my full name officially,” he wrote.
Read the full accounts of his narration in the snippets below: