Somali Culture


Naming Conventions

  • Somali naming conventions generally have the following format: [personal name] [father’s personal name] [ grandfather’s personal name]. For example, Omar [personal name] Elmi [father’s personal name] Dihoud [ grandfather’s personal name].
  • Somali names do not include a family name. This can result in confusion, as it may appear members of the same family have different surnames. For example, the child of Omar Elmi Dihoud (father) and Waris Abdi Duale (mother) would be named [personal name] Omar Elmi.
  • Some Somalis may choose to hyphenate the two last names to adapt to Western naming customs overseas. For example, Omar [first name] Elmi-Dihoud [surname]. Others may make their grandfather’s name their legal surname and their father’s name their middle name.
  • It is not customary for women to change their names at marriage. Keeping their father’s personal name and grandfather’s personal name shows respect for the woman’s father and family.
  • Somalis generally only refer to one another by their first name. All three names in full are usually only ever used when trying to identify them (e.g. through their relatives, formal identification, etc.).

Titles and Names

  • Titles such as “Mr” and “Mrs” are not used in the Somali language.
  • Somalis may refer to adults that they respect and feel a closeness to by a title such as “Adeer” (uncle), “Eeda” ( aunt) or “Habo/Habaryar” (maternal aunt) followed by the person’s first name. One does not have to be related to the person to use these titles.
  • Somalis commonly use nicknames (naanays), as many people have similar names. For example, Raage (he who was delayed at birth) or Macanay (sweet). A foreigner in the country may find they are called Gaal (non-Muslim/foreigner).
  • Some nicknames may be used to discuss a person jokingly when they are not present. For example, Caata (‘skinny’) and Wiil Waal (‘crazy boy’).
  • Many Somalis may have names derived from Islam or the Arabic language. Common Arabic names include Ahmed, Awad, Mahmud, Ali (male) or Faadumo, Aasha, Fawzia, Sahra (female).
  • Many Somali personal names are derived from Cushitic origins. Common Cushitic names include Awaale, Waabberi, Arale (male) or Awa, Cawo, Ambro (female).
  • It is common for first-born children to be named Faduma (female) or Muhammad (male).
  • Male twins are usually named Hassan and Hussein in accordance with Islamic tradition.
  • The letter x is pronounced as a h in Somali names.

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