The Akan states are believed by many to have originated from a migration from Sudan which began in the 10th century, to an area north-west of Kumasi. They called it Krako, or ‘to bid farewell’. By the 13th century the town of Bono Manso, which was in the Nkoranza area, had been founded and had become an important trading centre for gold, and subsequently slaves.
The Adansi were dwellers in the forests south of Kumasi. Reindorf records the tradition that "Adanse was the first seat of the Akan nation ... there God first commenced with the creation of the world". The origin of the name is not certain, but various theories exist. According to an oral tradition recorded by Wilks, "We the people of Adanse were the first to build houses. When the world was created people did not sleep in houses but in the spaces formed by the buttress roots of large trees and under flimsy shacks constructed of twigs and animal skin. The Adanse people built the first mud houses and became known as Adanesi foɔ." (Interview with Adansehene Nana Kwantwi II and elders, Fomena, July 1969) The supposed etymology is adan-ase, meaning 'under buildings'. Dickson considers this literal interpretation "improbable, for wattle-and-daub houses were known in Ghana long before the sixteenth century", but mentions an alternative interpretation by Meyerowitz (p.94), that the name means 'the beginning of change'. Yet another possibility is that suggested by Reindorf (p.43), who pointed out that the etymology "also means the foundation of the buildings" which can be interpreted metaphorically as "the building of the Tshi nation".
Toponyms: Adansi Anhwiaso, Adansi Praso
The Akyem, or Akim, were part of the Adansi kingdom, south of Kumasi. When the latter was absorbed into the Ashanti confederacy the Akyem broke away and lived south of the Pra. There are 3 principal families: Akyem Abuakwa, Akyem Bosome and Akyem Kotoku. The paramountcies are at Kibi (Kyebi), Swedru, and Oda, respectively. Reindorf (p.60) notes the origin as "Akem (Akyem, from nkyene, salt), a name given to the country by the Asantes for being supplied with salt by the people."
Toponyms: Akim Oda, Akim Swedru
There are different accounts of the origin of the name 'Asante'. According to one, related by a contributor to the website Abibitumi Kasa, the original migrant communities of Bono Manso split into those that moved further south, and those that remained inland. The latter were referred to as the aso-antse-fo (‘ear did not hear people’, i.e. stubborn) which became contracted to ‘Asante’ or ‘Ashanti’. Another account, given in an interview with the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, by Baffour Ankomah, attributes the name to a later stage of history, when the Amantuo Num (five foundational states) of Kwaman, Dwaben, Asumegya, Mampong, & Kumawu united against the common enemy of the Denkyira. Since it was esa nti ('because of war') that they united, they became known as the Asante.
The Asin were an Akan state that existed in the Cape Coast area. Reindorf (p.43) gives the origin of their name as "wansen, which means, numerically surpassing the site they then occupied on the right bank of the Pra".
Those who broke away from the Bono Manso community and travelled south to the coast became known as the fa-atsew-fo (‘half has torn away people’), which became contracted to Mfantse. They settled in the area around Mankessim. Reindorf (p.7) compares this with a less likely account: ".. the tradition of the Fantes about their emigration to the coast, [was] that they separated from the other emigrants and were called Ofatewfo i.e. the portion that has separated from the main body. We suppose this to be more the real meaning than "Efantewfo" pickers of 'efan' i.e. vegetable or pot-herb." The Fante-speaking people are not a single state. In 1868 a shortlived confederacy was formed of several Fante states, to strengthen their position in relation to the Ashanti and European powers. The constitution was rewritten in 1871 but the confederacy was dissolved within two years. Both the Fante and the British maintained a strained relationship with the Ashanti, and it was therefore in the interests of the Fante to accept inclusion within the Gold Coast which was declared a British crown colony in 1874.
The Gomoa people are a Fante state centred on a line joining Afransi and Apam, which are the district capitals of East & West Gomoa. The migratory tendency of the Gomoa is well known, and accounts for the fact that some of their settlements are named after the places from which they came. The district websites draw attention to the phenomenon known as the 'Gomoa Two Weeks' – "A two week home-coming of Gomoa migrants to have family re-unions and participate in funerals and festivals [which] attest to [the] permanent migrant nature of the Gomoas". Another reason for exotic Gomoa toponyms is given by a GhanaWeb forum contributor, who explains that members of the Gomoan diaspora are very good at remitting funds to their families back home. As a mark of appreciation, new settlements may be named after the host town or country of their benefactors. This may well explain why one town is apparently named after Lome, the capital of Togo; it is unlikely that Gomoa migrants have come from such a place. One informant gives the following account of the origin of the name Gomoa (or Gomua) itself: "Apparently over a century ago a woman who was facing difficulties in her marital home decided to migrate and find somewhere more peaceful and she settled in the original site which was named after her - she was Gomuawa. With time her descendants who kept spreading also prefixed their own settlement with 'Gomua'."
The Kwahu or Kwawu area is famous for its mountainous plateau, situated between Koforidua and Kumasi. The 'h' spelling is more commonly seen on maps and in district names, but the 'w' spelling is correct linguistically and reflects the pronunciation. Originally the 'h' was inserted by Swiss missionaries to indicate that the first syllable was 'ah', not 'eh'. At least three accounts exist of the origin of the name. The website Twi.bb claims that the name derives from "an ancient prophecy that a slave would die so the wandering tribe of Akan would know where to settle". This presumably occurred, giving rise to the expression akowa awu, 'the slave has died'. GhanaWeb reports two other traditions. According to C.Ntiamoah-Mensah the leader of a kingdom to the north of the plateau, one Kwaw Baadu, sent a scout called Kofabra to find a healthier place where his people could settle. On the death of the scout, the site was called Akoawu, meaning 'has fought and died' (or, as before, 'the slave has died'), as a memorial. A more recent article by S.A.Owusu claims that during the third Anglo-Ashanti war, the Ashanti royals took refuge in the Kwahu mountains. When servants were sent to bring the royals home the latter felt ashamed, killed the servants, and buried them in a mass grave. The place then became known as "Nkoawu" (the slaves died).
The simplest and most obvious etymology of this name is that which is assumed by Meyerowitz (p.103), namely that it refers to "Twi, a language that spread right through the forest region once the Twifo, or Twi people, were dispersed after the collapse of the three states founded by them - Twifo-Heman, Akwamu and Doma" (Twi = Akan dialect, fo = people). One reason that further light may need to be shed on its origin is that the numerous forms of the name to be found in the older literature and on old maps appear to include variants which might not be wholly attributable to the European inability to pronounce the word. Thus Christaller (p.XVI, footnote) states that "The syllable twi is also found in ... Twuforo (foro = new)", and (p.X) lists the 'country' as "Tshuforo (Tshiforo, Twiforo, orig. Kwiforo, also written Juffer, Tufel)". (The last version, Tufel, can be seen on the 1896 map.) The fact that he notes Kwiforo (the Fante version) as being the "original", therefore points strongly to a meaning based on 'New-'. A more fundamental reason for the need for more etymology is that the simple explanation leaves unanswered the question of how the language got its name. It is natural to name a language after the people or country and not vice versa. A possible line of enquiry might be found in the undocumented claim by J.DeHeer that following the break-up of the ancient Ghana kingdom, people from the Aduana clan migrated to the Kong mountains of northern Ivory Coast, where they became known as Tieefo. Subsequent migration through the Brong region, and then further south under the leadership of Nana Agyen Kokobo gave rise to the Twifo state.