Somalia Personal Names

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Understanding customs used in surnames and given names can help you identify your ancestors in records. Learn to recognize name variations and see clues in names.

Online Tools[edit | edit source]

Surnames[edit | edit source]

  • The common order of names in Somali:
personal name + father’s personal name + paternal grandfather’s personal name
Omar Elmi Dihoud (no family name)
  • In order to identify any given Somali, all three names must be used, although Somalis traditionally use only the first and second names to address someone.
  • Women do not traditionally change their names upon marrying; they keep their original names from their father and grandfather.
  • A typical Somali family may therefore be named as follows:
(father) Omar Elmi Dihoud
(son) Ali Omar Elmi
(daughter) Roda Omar Elmi
  • In Western societies, women may adopt their husband’s last name (that of his paternal grandfather) to adapt to local customs:
e.g. the wife of Omar Elmi Dihoud may be known as Waris Abdi Dihoud.[1]

Given Names[edit | edit source]

  • There is a custom of naming first children Faduma in the case of girls and Muhammad for boys.
  • Male twins are traditionally named Hassan and Hussein.
  • The following naming practices should also be noted:
a. Somalis commonly use nicknames (‘naanays’), as many Somalis have similar names. As there no distinct family names, all names come from the same ‘pool’ of personal names. There are generally two types of nicknames:
i. overt: those used to address the person so named, e.g. Raage (‘he who is delayed at birth’) and Gaal (‘foreigner–one who has lived abroad’);
ii. covert: those used in conversation about a person, but rarely face-toface, e.g. Laba sacle (‘man with only two cows’) and Wiil Waal (‘crazy boy’);
b. Somali personal names are typically of Cushitic or Arabic origin. The letter h is often exchanged for x in names, e.g. Mohammad / Maxammed.
c. common Somali Cushitic personal names include:
i. male: Awaale, Waabberi, Arale / Caraale, Gutaale, Guleed;
d. common Somali Arabic personal names include:
i. male: Mohammad / Maxammed / Maxamud / Muxumed, Ahmed / Axmed, Hussein / Xusseen, Omar[1]

For Further Reading[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]