Sunday, January 14, 2018

Jan. 14, 2018 What's in a Name?

We were very busy helping the office staff this week.  The records of all the ordinances are of course transmitted electronically to Church headquarters every day or two.  In addition, the paper copies of the ordinances for the living are kept for a year and then sent to the Church.  So we have been busy making sure that the electronic and paper records are the same and that the paper records are alphabetized in the same order as the electronic version, to prepare to send off the paper records from last year.

Thats sounds very simple, but in reality it is not.  In large part that is because African names are so different from those in N. America.  At home we are used to having the same father’s family name passed on from one generation to the next, with parents naming their children one or two additional “given names”.  And the order is always the same: first given name, second given name, and then family name.  In some parts of English-speaking Africa that is the same, but in other parts, especially French-speaking, it can be very different and not consistent from one region to another.

For example, in many parts of West Africa, the family name is given first, with other given names following.  Not too difficult.  Sometimes the family name is the second name, with a grandparents name given first and the “given name” last.  In that case, the “family name” changes from generation to generation, much like the patronymic system in Scandinavia.  Another variant is that the child is given the father’s “family” name first, followed by their “given name”, followed by another name given by the parents, which could be that of an uncle, or friend, etc.  With large numbers of orphans in West Africa it is also common for children to be raised by uncles, aunts, grandparents, or kind strangers, and the children often bear their names.  (If you aren’t confused yet you haven’t been paying attention!) So if you ask the question, “What is your family name?”, there may not be a straightforward answer.  

Unfortunately for us, the electronic forms require first given name, followed by second given name, followed by family name.  The order is the same on the recommend forms that come with the patrons, but the bishops don’t always follow the instructions correctly.  That means that sometimes the patrons are confused by the questions we ask to try to ascertain what name to put in which slot.  And sometimes the office workers are confused about what answers they give.  Then throw in the language barriers, add in the clerical errors of changing the forms in the computer to match what the patrons have said, and the filing errors, and you have an interesting mix.  

Over time we have improved a lot in understanding these issues and getting it correct, but it has been a year of transition from one recorder to another, and from volunteer staff to full-time staff.   So, this week we have been very busy with forms and the alphabet.  

Fortunately we’ve also had time to recuperate each day and a couple of gatherings in the evening.  We went to the 2nd Annual MTC Cultural Awareness Day and potluck lunch, where they showed us how to wear a chief’s Kinte cloth, how to tie the headgear, and how to wrap a baby to carry on the back.  It was fun and a celebration for MTC Pres. and Sr. Brubaker, who will be released next week.

Lunch at the MTC

A real chief wouldn't wear a shirt!
Pres.and Sr.Brubaker

Sr. Simpson (mission president's wife) and Sue
Showing off headgear


  1. Thank you for the interesting and informative posts. As we anticipate our arrival in Ghana, your reports become even more meaningful.

    Recently, we learned that a friend from our previous time in the Canada Montreal Mission, Ilene Giles, knows the Brubakers who are also from Midway... We look forward to meeting them.

    We appreciate all your valuable guidance and hope to meet you sometime.

    Sincerely, Marsha and Craig

    1. You will not be able to meet the Brubakers here as they were released in January. I can safely predict, however, that you will meet several other people with whom you will find an unknown connection as you talk. I don't know if that is just a function of getting older and knowing more people, and/or the wonderful connectivity of serving in the church. We will get to meet you March 24-25 after our return from S. Africa.