Somalis love nicknames, and the more rude and personal the better…
Somalis love nicknames: the last President was nicknamed ‘Farmajo’, which means ‘cheese’. Contrary to popular myth – which manifested itself in a number of international receptions featuring extensive cheese boards – the nickname was actually inherited from his father. Nicknames in Somali can be hereditary.
Other nicknames are more straightforward: if you are tall, you are ‘Diriye’ (tall) and if you are small you are ‘Yarisow’ (small). Many nicknames are awarded (inflicted?) during childhood and could be something as innocuous as ‘Barise’ (liked rice when young) or ‘Muse’ (liked bananas). Hair is a common theme: ‘timo’ means hair, so ‘timo adde’ means white hair, ‘Timo Jeere’ means soft hair and so on. Eyes are the same: ‘Inda’ means eyes in Somali, so ‘Inda Adde’ means eyes that shows much of the whites of the eye (it is also the name of a notorious warlord). Some kind of ailment sadly often becomes the poor individual’s nickname: ‘jeeri’, for example, is the nickname of anyone with a limp.
Bashaal – You like to party?
Some nicknames are quite specific: ‘Bashaal’ has a double meaning, someone who likes to party (don’t we all?) but also someone who likes to have sex (again, don’t we all?). Even the al-Qa’ida linked terror group, while spitting out much of Somali culture in favour of its own perverse ideology, still allows nicknames: its lanky leader is Diriye; one senior figure is called ‘Karate’ (because he used to play karate, apparently); and another, rather bizarrely, is called ‘Kabokutakade’ (he who prays with his shoes on – for a quick escape, presumably).
Beware of offence
However, some Somali nicknames are very personal indeed and such directness can sometimes be unnerving or even offensive for an external observer: ‘Madobe’ and ‘Duhulow’ both mean varying degrees of black, not a nickname that would go down well in many cultures (think the ‘N’ word). Anyone with slightly closed eyelids is known as ‘Shiine’ (Chinese). Women do not generally have long term nicknames but those females from outside the Somali community often have nicknames that might seem pleasant if somewhat intrusive (‘Inda Aws’, meaning gazelle eyes) or which are outright rude (‘Maya nas hablood’, meaning flat chested).
It is generally best when dealing with Somalis to get ahead of the game and choose your own nickname: the author, for example, is left handed and therefore chose ‘Gurey’ (which has the added bonus of being the nickname of being a hero from Somali history). Otherwise your most sensitive flaw – your bald patch, your slightly large posterior, the time you dropped a glass – might become your lifelong moniker.