Ewe

Ewe is spoken in south-east Ghana
as far west as the River Volta and as far north as Hohoe.

Perhaps the simplest type of place name to be found in the land of the Ewe people is that based on the name of a founder. The Ewe word kɔƒe is variously translated as cottage, hamlet or village. This is simply appended to the name of the settlement founder, e.g. as in Dzelukofe, or Dzelu's Place. Since the sounds in kɔƒe are difficult to represent accurately with English orthography, the variants kope, korfe, korpe are often seen in print. Jakob Spieth gives an interestingly counter-intuitive pastoral description of the formation of such settlements:
"The villages developed out of towns, .. The inhabitants from the interior often walk several hours away from their ancestral home in order to lay out their farms .. In the middle of the farm a hut of palm branches is built .. If the external conditions are favourable, perhaps a second and third family settles there. .. More and more family members settle in their hamlets, and in this way a village, termed kɔfe, emerges. What one understands by kɔ is part of the family that lives in town. The village that has emerged usually adopts the name of the man who settled their first."

Frequently a settlement or farm would be made in the location of significant trees. These may have had domestic, social or even religious importance. This has resulted in toponyms which identify location in relation to named tree types. Locative postpositions which are often used are -me, meaning 'in, among' and -ɖome, meaning 'under'. Examples of this are: Agome, Agodome (Among/Under the Fan Palms), Deme (In the Palms), and Adidome (Among the Baobab Trees).

Other typical environmental features are also used to make place names, such as Todzi (On the Mountain), Avedzime (In the Red Forest), and Gbadzeme (In the Flat Place).

Many Ewe place names are based on contractions of comments made by people involved in migrations into the area in the 16th to 18th centuries. This makes it difficult or impossible to make a first guess at the origin of an unfamiliar name. Some examples are given below, with a short account of the migration story.

The Notsie Narrative

According to tradition the Ewe people of Ghana migrated from the north-east, probably Nigeria or Benin, arriving at Notsie in what is now Togo from 1500 to 1600. They were accepted by the king, Adelã Atogble, but relations deteriorated during the reign (c.1650) of his successor, Ago Akoli (or Agokoli), who became oppressive and had many of their elders killed. One wise old man called Tegli was kept safe and masterminded an escape plan.
The huge wall of the city was breached and the people led out one night, walking backwards to produce confusing footprints, while dancing and drumming concealed their exodus. They all travelled together to Tsevie in Togo, where they split into 3 groups which migrated to various parts of the Volta Region. Those who headed towards the coast were led by an elder called Wenya and his nephew Sri, who parted company before reaching Keta Lagoon.
The Notsie Exodus: picture courtesy of Noviha-UK             

Kedzi: The clan now known as the Anlo were led by Wenya and crossed the lagoon where it narrows near Atititi. On reaching the sea Wenya is reputed to have said with relief "Mie do eke dzi azo" (We have at last arrived on sand).
Keta: On crossing the sandbar Wenya told his followers, "Mieva do kea ta", or "Mekpo ke fe ta", meaning that they had reached the sand head.
Anloga: Wenya took his people further west, but a time came when through old-age and tiredness he felt he could travel no more. When asked when they were going to leave, Wenya replied "Nye amea menlo afia deke yiyi megale nunye o" (I am exhausted and bent over and I can't go any further). The settlement took its name from "menlo" (I am bent and tired) which became 'Anlo', the word 'ga' (big) being added to denote the town's status as clan capital.
Dzodze: Sri founded settlements inland of the lagoon. The River Aka presented a difficulty to westward movement in that area, and a query from one man, Amegayibor, to his uncle Adzofia concerning how he got across produced the reply "De mie dzo va dze" (We flew and landed), from which the name Dzodze was derived.
Kuve: Quarrels between the children of Amegayibor and Adzofia, led to the nephew moving to a new area, but the family was blighted by a series of childhood deaths, so the place was called 'Death's Forest', or 'Ku Ave'.
Fiagbedu: Togbui (Chief) Adzofia took pity on his nephew and invited him to return to Dzodze, and subsequently gave him land on which to settle. His comment "Fia megbea du o" (A chief does not reject his people) gave the name to that area.
Adagbledu: Friction between Adzofia's people and the indigenous people of Fiagbedu, who proved to be aggressive, led to the latter being resettled on land released by one of Adzofia's sons, Eko. Togbui's reason for the move, "Ada gblea du" (Ferocity destroys people) became the name of their new community.
Fiahor: Sri eventually rejoined his uncle at Anloga, and established a settlement on the lagoon island nearby. The name of the island means 'Chief's Hut'.