BY Nii Ntreh, 8:00am April 19, 2020,

How Togo came to have its name

Lake Togo is credited with inspiring the name of the country. Photo Credit:

One of the more fascinating ways to look at the small country of Togo is that if Ghana’s first president Kwame Nkrumah had his way, Togo would have been part of the territory formerly known as the Gold Coast.

As Face2FaceAfrica once explained, Nkrumah had always wanted more of Togo, perhaps all of it, to be part of Ghana. This was in line with his dreams of a united Africa.

Indeed, part of what became Ghana was won over through a referendum in 1956 when the people of Western Togoland voted to be part of the British colony. Togoland was the French colony next door to the Gold Coast.

But Sylvanus Epiphanio Olympio, Togo’s first president, was an Ewe nationalist. He believed the Ewe ethnic group needed their own nation and thus, never quite overcame the pain of seeing Western Togoland join Ghana.

The Ewe nation is also a fundamentally important factor in the conception of modern Togo.

Archaeological evidence suggests that what counts as primary Ewe identity, that is language and a few other customs, was solidified prior to the 13th century.

The Ewe language itself descended from the Gbe group of languages which also includes the Fon and Aja. This family of languages is spoken largely in west African countries.

17th-century Eweland spread from modern Ghana right up to Benin. Consequently, Ghana, Togo and Benin are the three countries on the continent that house today’s Ewe people.

European slave trade ambitions in Africa put the Ewe people in the region callously named the Slave Coast. This stretch from the Volta river in the west to bight of the Benin river.

The territory that is today Togo is thought to have been conceptualized, or better still, named around the 15th century. Togo, in the most popular Ewe dialect, comes from to (toh) meaning “river” and godo (gohdoh) which means “on the other side”.

The country thus etymologically translates as “on the other side of the river”. The said river is thought to be Lake Togo, historically a premium water source for the ancients.

Although the country is literally named by the Ewe, Togo does not even have the biggest population of that ethnic group. That honor falls to Ghana where the Ewe are in the country’s eastern region bordering with Togo.

Olympio’s dream of an Ewe nation may never be realized. But others like Togo’s first president may take pride in the fact that most Ewe have regarded the country as some sort of “spiritual home” since independence in 1960.

Last Edited by:Kent Mensah Updated: April 19, 2020


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