Yes! Good sir/madam, you guessed it. That is my name.

No seriously, that is my name. Well…you see, okay, the thing is, actually, okay fine…that’s not my name. But interesting fact: over time, that is what it has become in Ghana.

I’ve recently learned that the ‘translation’ of Arabic names into local languages is done by more than one Muslim population in the world.

Now, please keep in mind that I’ve only deduced this from word of mouth as it was told to me by a couple of Ghanaian friends. But also note that when I was told this story I actually laughed to myself a bit because the same phenomenon occurs in my parents’ home country of Sri Lanka (and I, for some strange reason, thought we Sri Lankans were the only ones!).

Take my name in Ghana for example:

My name is Haroon (phonetically haa-roon), this an Arabic name. In Ghana, commonly this name is given to newborns as Haruna, (phonetically haa-roo-nah). Somewhere down the line, this became Ajuna.

The theory as it to how this happened is up to debate I suppose, but here’s what I’ve heard and, to be honest, it makes sense to me.

Think back to when you were learning a foreign language. What was your first step? I suppose this depends on the person, but for me it was (and still is) asking someone who knows the target language to say something only so I can repeat what I hear.

And this is what I’ve been told has happened with Arabic names in certain parts of the world. When not well-versed in Arabic, when hearing an Arabic name, in my opinion, it is only natural to say the name how it sounds to you. It’s just like how it’s only natural to spell a word how it sounds to you!

Here are a few other examples:

  • Dawood has become Dawrah
  • Abdur Raheem has become Abraim
  • Yunus has become Inusah
  • Abu Bakr became Abukaray which has become Bukalay
  • Mutawaqil has become Motouchilou
  • Bilkis has become Balkisou
  • Abdallah has become Ablai
  • Khadijah has become Adijah

Yes, I know what you’re thinking it…it’s a worldwide game of broken telephone! Till next time.


P.S. Under 3 weeks left in my fellowship. Accra, you will be missed.


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