My BFFFL Nana Darkoa is a staunch feminist. We haven’t always seen eye-to-eye on everything, but she generally has a way of conveying her point convincingly. As a feminist, part of her dogma lies in the belief that the “person is political”, meaning everything we do as individuals is political in some way. I typically roll me eyes whenever this though is asserted. Why are feminists always making everything so bloody political, I think inwardly. Outwardly I would nod politely in response, just to avoid a potential confrontation. How very “unfeminist” of me; I know.
As Fate and Time have a funny way of doing, I have recently been forced to revisit this concept of personhood and politics when the pair of them conspired to bring it to my attention to my again. Among the list of things that I would list as possibly political, a name wouldn’t have made the top five. Who would have imagined something as harmless and personal as my name would become a political issue? Not I, obviously. I
have been writing under the moniker Abena Gyekye on this blog since its inception. When Nana and I began this blog, I expected a negative backlash from the Ghanaian community in particular and the African community in general. The topic of sex has been taboo in Africa for as long as either of us could remember. I desperately wanted to be a facilitator of this conversation, but I feared that there would be consequences for doing this. To protect my family from potential “embarrassment” I began writing under a generic Ghanaian name. “Abena” is my day name and “Gyekye” is a common enough name that one would be hard pressed to point to one family to which to ascribe “blame” for spoiling Ghana’s youth. I didn’t want to write under Malaka Gyekye /Grant because I am the ONLY Malaka Gyekye in Ghana, and out of respect for my husband’s connections to the church I didn’t want my writing to act as a stumbling for his Christian efforts. To my surprise (and pleasure) the response to Adventures has been very positive – positive everywhere except in my own home.
Nana Darkoa has been doing the interview rounds for Adventures for years, and I have only recently joined her on the circuit now that the attention has gone international. We were recently interviewed by Jonathan Groubert for Radio Netherlands Worldwide when the subject of my husband being a deacon came up. As you can imagine, the idea that a “good Christian woman” who married to a “good Christian man” living in the South, writing salacious material for an African blog might cause confusion for some and Jonathan wanted to address that. I failed to see his concern, until I shared the details of his line of questioning with my husband.
The conversation did not end well. Suffice it to say that my husband and father are matched in their defense of their ancestry/surnames.
I don’t mind at all if folks here on the blog still want to refer to me as “Abena”, because it IS my name after all. But at the end of the day, I have decided that the time has come for me to assert my independence with regards to my name as it relates to my work as a writer. I determined after that lengthy chat with my husband that from then on, when I authored a work, I would only be identified as Malaka – no “Grant”, no “Gyekye”, no wahala! There will no longer be this nonsensical discussion of my writing spoiling any man’s name.
I could use this space to wax on about patriarchy and its ills against the rights of women (but I’m not a femenist,so I couldn’t speak in depth to that issue), but I would much rather end by commending my Best Friend For Freakin’ Life, who although is young is very wise. And brave. She put her name and her face out there from the start, not knowing what the repercussions might be. She is a true trailblazer in my view.
So I ask again: What’s in a name? A name carries both substance and baggage, but certainly not enough of either to repudiate me from writing on any topic as I see fit!
Oh, and Happy International Women’s Day.