My Name is Cabdiraxmaan Cabdillahi Cali Cabdifataax

I still don’t really know how to pronounce that. That could easily qualify as a normal Somali male name.

We still have a week until the students arrive and school actually starts, but I’m already worried about butchering the pronunciation of kids’ names. Yesterday I spent an hour entering the names of hundreds of exam takers into a spreadsheet and was totally overwhelmed by the way many Somali names are spelled.

In Somali, the English letter ‘c’ is pronounced like a glottal stop deep in the back of one’s throat. I really haven’t figured out yet how to use it correctly yet. ‘X’ is pronounced like an overly emphasized ‘h’. ‘Q’ is pronounced like you are saying the letter ‘k’ in the back of your mouth. As you can probably imagine, this is all quite confusing for me and my Somali language skills are developing at a snail’s pace.

The naming tradition amongst Somalis is unique. Funny enough, my only other experience in sub-Saharan Africa has been in Ghana, where people are commonly called by their day names (For me, that makes two African countries; two naming styles). Ghanaians often use a name that relates to the day on which they were born. Some examples are Kweku, Kofi, Kojo, Kwesi, and Kwame (For example, Kofi Annan, former UN secretary general, and Kwame Kilpatrick, Detroit’s disgraced former mayor). When I taught there, my students all referred to me as ‘Baba Kwesi’ because I was born on a Sunday.

Here in Somaliland, most people have three names: a given name followed by their father’s given name and their grandfather’s. It keeps going on like that – the fourth name is the great-grandfather’s, the fifth name is the great-great-grandfather’s, and so on. Many Somalis can recite their names to the 25th level as a testament to their clan lineage, which is of upmost importance in Somalia. Add to this the difficult pronunciation and the fact that many Somalis have similar names, and it starts getting very confusing very fast. I’ve never been good at remembering names and I finally understand why all of my teachers and professors over the years took attendance for months and commonly confused their students’ names.

For any non-Somali speaking readers who think they are up for the challenge, try pronouncing the following Somali names, consisting of the first four names for better identification. Remember, x’s are like h’s and c’s are glottal stops…

Bootaan Cabdiraxmaan Cali Ismaaciil

Casha Maxamed Yuusuf Muxumed

Xamde Cabdillahi Canaan Maxamed

Jimcaale Xasan Xirsi Gadiid

Cabdirisaaq Cabdiraxmaan Axmed Mux’ed

Mubaarig Mukhtaar Gaaxnuug Aadan

Ibraahim Xasan Jamaac Cismaan

Cabdifataax Hassan Cabdiqani Ducaale

I hope that was difficult. Needless to say, I have learned four key words/phrases in Somali so far:

Iska waran – How are you?

Mahadsanid – Thank you

Ha – Yes

Maya – No

Before my next post I will try and perfect my Somali pronunciation and hopefully will have started memorizing some names.

That’s all for now…signing off from the region in Somaliland where I live: Woqooyi Galbeed, also known as Maroodi Jeex (have fun enunciating that one!)

This is what Google looks like when you access it from Somalia.

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5 thoughts on “My Name is Cabdiraxmaan Cabdillahi Cali Cabdifataax

  1. Felipe says:

    Eños, this blog is amazing. Makes me think of your outline of the world tattoo. Come back to Davidson before I graduate so we can party again. Oddly, this reminded me of home a little bit, despite all of the differences between Somaliland and Ecuador, i can see the same underlying developing world. Enjoy this amazing adventure brother.

    • John Enos says:

      Thanks, Felipe! There are definitely similarities between Somaliland and many developing countries that I’ve visited, so it doesn’t surprise me that you see parallels between Somaliland and Ecuador. Hope your sophomore year is great and keep me updated. Take it easy

  2. Maryam H says:

    haha that was fun! i think since i know many arabic names its kinda the same. i could pronounce most of them, but i don’t know if its the samein arabic as it is in Somali.

    Take care

  3. Amelia says:

    Your blog is great procrastination just so you know. haha. Those letters that you describe are just like the Arabic letters ق ح ء. From right to left, they are the glottal stop, the deep h sound, and the deep k sound. Language learning is so fun. Those names are CRAZY long though!

  4. Elyas says:

    Remember that these names are mostly Arabic and are related to the names of the Islamic prophets, such as Ismail(Ismaaciil) and Mohamed(Maxamed)…Im Somali(of Somaliland descend)…

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