Why do Somali poets have nicknames?

By: Ilhaan Mohamed

Within the Somali community it is common for people to be reffered to, almost exclusively, by a nickname or a naanays. A naanays is not chosen by the person and is usually assigned to them by friends and family during childhood. These nicknames can be rooted in a strong personality trait, physical feature or a profession and are often used in preference over the person's legal/birth name. Depending on your fortune you could end up with a great name or one that you wish you could escape from. It is important to understand that a naanays is never intended to be rude even when they come from the most sensitive parts of a person's person. So why do many poets, such as Maxamed Xaashi Dhamac (Gaarriye) and Maxamed Ibraahin Warsame (Hadraawi), have nicknames but Caasha Lul Mohamud Yusuf doesn't?

Although the tradition of the naanays remains very much alive accross the Somali speaking region, it is one of the traditions that diasporic Somali have not continued in the same way. While many of us do grow up with a pet name given to us by our parents, it is not as common to be soley reffered to by this name by all. It has become a far more personal naanays that tends to exist within the nuclear family unless the person actively chooses to go by this name with other family and friends as well. This is most likely why Caasha Lul doesn't share in the nickname tradition that Gaarriye and others do. It is a common misconception that nicknames are reserved for men and this assumption can reduce the complexity of the Somali community. It is unhelpful to use Western lenses, like conceptions of gender, when looking at other cultures as they are often desgined to restrict non-European peoples. It is therefore important to abandon Western frameworks when engaging with non-European people/literature so that these restrictions are not recreated and reinforced. Thinking of the ways that refugee/migrant communities and cultures shift after trauma and political upheaval provides a much better understanding of changes such as the Somali naanays.