On Naming in Togo

Today I want to tell you the story of one man with three different lives.

As scandalous as that sounds, don’t get your hopes up too much. ;p

I have many nicknames but most of you will know me as Ti. Ti has fun. He traveled to Morocco, graduated college, and moved to West Africa with the Peace Corps.

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When Ti arrived in the training villages of Southern Togo where he would spend the next three months with a host family, he got a new name. His host mother hugged him every day, held his hand walking to school, and renamed him Yao. Yao is the Ewe word for Thursday–the day Ti was born. From time to time, Yao was also called Yaovi which means “Little Brother Yao.” Yao was in a constant state of change and learning. He learned how to handwash his clothes, how to avoid the type of mud that makes you fall, and more importantly, he learned humility.

Three months passed and Yao was placed in the northernmost region of Togo: the Savannahs. He packed up his life, hugged his Ewe momma goodbye, and moved to his home for the next two years.

Moving out of the Ewe south and into the Moba north meant–you’ve guessed it–a new name.

Et voila, Yao turned into Lalmongue. My first day in my new house, my host father gave me this name. Laré is a traditional Moba name for men that have completed their rite of passage. There are five Moba names like this but Laré is generally regarded as the most respected. “Mongue” is a suffix that means “clear skinned.” So my newest name literally means Clear Skinned Laré.

Nonetheless, I love being Lalmongue. After all, the bulk of my service is being spent under this name. Lalmongue is a teacher, a mentor, and a shorts-wearing, heat-hating bamf.

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Don’t get me wrong. Even though I live as Lalmongue, Ti and Yao are still there too. When I am collaborating on projects among my American coworkers, Ti is at work. When I return to the south, Lalmongue is put on pause, and Yao comes back to life.

Among many things I didn’t anticipate about service, having to juggle different identities takes the number one spot. Each identity holds lessons learned, and advice followed.

It is the way of many Native American tribes to be given more than one name throughout one’s life. For example, you’re born with a baby name, but that name won’t be the same when you’re an adult. Name changes can happen multiple times, but they are all earmarked by large events. Each new name marks the end of the previous. For example, I went from being Ti to Yao. Yao might be a completely different person from Ti. However, when we leave to meet the Creator, we are able to bring with us the wisdom of many different people–many different lives lived. This is how I see Ti, Yao, and Lalmongue.

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I do see this as a challenge, but I really enjoy being able to blend ever so slightly when I am traveling. Ok, well, I don’t blend at all anywhere I go in Togo. When people see me, they see a white guy that can’t eat the same foods as them, that has to have running water, and that doesn’t know the realities of village life. Introducing myself with my local language names allows me to remove this first impression. “Hey friend, my name is Yao, and I eat pâte ever day!” They no longer see the white foreigner, but instead, they think: “hey, this guy does the same stuff we do!”

That’s why I appreciate all of my names!

As always, feel free to ask me questions, message me on fb, or send me beef jerky for Christmas!

Stay savvy my friends,

With much love,

 

Trekking Tim

One thought on “On Naming in Togo

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