Conference presentation
Open access

Toponymy of power, power of toponymy? Colonial and contemporary Togolese place renaming

Presented at5th Trends in Toponymy Conference, Bern (Switzerland), 9-13 july
Publication date2012

After the First World War, the German colonial empire was put under the mandate of the League of Nations. Day-to-day administrative affairs in former German Togoland were handed, under the stewardship of the League of Nations, to the United Kingdom and France. The shift from German to French administration in the eastern part led to the implementation of numerous changes including the renaming of places in the capital city Lomé: each and every name relating to Germany being banned and replaced by others relating to France or French colonial history. Another limited round of place renaming took place from 1960, in celebration of the country's independence from French colonial rule. The 1967 military coup meant political and military empowerment of people from the North over the political elite from the South showing in many ways where the new power came from. Place renaming occurred again, even in rural areas. In the 1970s, a name cleansing – topononymic as well as patronymic – took place under the new political ideology of “African authenticity”. Nevertheless, by law, each and every Togolese citizen had to change his/her name to an “authentic” one, with no means of escape since new identity documents were no longer issued with former Christian names. Allowing individuals to keep their former Christian names was a strong demand in the national sovereign conferences that took place in the 1990s. Nowadays, and despite other social priorities having to be achieved quickly, place renaming still occurs according to two principles dealing with power, although in very different ways. In the Litimé, a remote rural area which is a former frontier where land issue is at stake after the saturation of settled land, competition over land ownership is set between local people and foreign settlers. Traditional leaders, in cooperation with the ruling party, tried to take over the local toponymy in an attempt to remove the names of settlements and neighbourhoods with foreign origins. In the capital city, at the time of the so-called “political opening”, symbolic places (landmarks) continue to celebrate the memory of the former dictator through brand new names, even if symbolic concessions are made in an attempt to bring balance and honour the memory of the leaders of the independence movement. A century after the first colonial toponymic struggle in Togo, political place name issues are still on the agenda of both central power and local stakeholders.

  • Place naming
  • Place name
  • Toponymy
  • Togo
  • Place renaming
  • Toponymic cleansing
Citation (ISO format)
GIRAUT, Frédéric, ANTHEAUME, Benoît. Toponymy of power, power of toponymy? Colonial and contemporary Togolese place renaming. In: 5th Trends in Toponymy Conference. Bern (Switzerland). 2012.
Main files (1)
  • PID : unige:22883

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