What’s in a Name?

One fine morning many moons ago, my paternal grandmother, may God rest her gentle soul in eternal peace, set off from her husband’s home back to her father’s while she was heavily expectant. This, as you can already imagine, is not an ordinary thing because a married woman rarely goes back to her father’s home as she belongs to her husband’s family. Well at least that is how was back then.  In Somali and in most African cultures, a woman would only go back if there was an emergency or if there was a serious domestic problem that needed the intervention of her father. Now in this particular morning, it was the latter.

There was an altercation. I am not sure the exact cause of the fight but there are certain likely possibilities. May be grandpa had spent the whole of that day tending to the camels and came home way after the sun had set, tired and worn. Maybe he needed a bowl of hot tea (with lots of sugar of course) and a quick massage of his tired feet. Why else did he pay ten camels as dowry for right? He didn’t need much really, just lots of tea and a massage.  A shower wasn’t really necessar, because he was at the well only three weeks ago. In other words, he was fresh as dew. So I imagine he shouted her name over the thorn fence. I imagine he didn’t hear a response. She wasn’t home. There was no fire on, just old darkened sufurias and plastic cups lying around the fireplace.  There were no telephones so he couldn’t really shoot her a text. If it was this era, he would have WhatsApped her:

“Bae, am home. Where you? Need you ASAP.” And she’d have replied: “Awww 😍😍☺️☺️, be right there boo. OMG you won’t believe where I am! Halimo’s bridal shower. The reception is next week. Can’t wait. Wink. Wink.” She’d have sent a selfie. #NoFilter. #NoMakeup. #WokeUpLikeThis.

But in this story, none of that happened of course.

Instead, he got a wooden bowl that he had carved years ago when they were newlyweds and went to milk his favourite she-camel. He filled it to the brim, as it foamed at the top. He sat down in front of the hut, put his walking stick on the ground next to him.

He took a sip. He sighed. He looked up to the sky. The full moon covered everything in a pale gray hue.

Maybe he sat there for a long time. A couple of hours. Maybe more. Maybe she came later on. He confronted her. Maybe he gave her a thorough beating. Maybe she demanded a divorce. Some more serious beating; he was quite the gentleman you know, otherwise where did I get it? Maybe later on she wanted to make out. Bae, can we make out? Maybe he asked, what is that? Maybe she rolled her eyes, sipped tea and said: OMG so lame🙄🙄. Maybe he lost it and then he got annoyed with her. All the same, there was an altercation. There was a fight. And this morning, she had given him the silent treatment, and when Granddad took the camels out, she knew it was the perfect time to run away. She set off, dragging her three-year-old son by the hand. She’d had enough. She was livid. How dare he touch me? Men! Sigh!

It was a hot and dry season. The drought was at its worst. Water was scarce too, but luckily, her father lived only four days trek away. Only four days. That was just a stone throw away. Basically the next door neighbour. On the way, her water broke. She sat under a tree. She sneezed. Aaachhuu! And a bouncing baby boy was born. Si that is how babies are made? Kwani how are they born?

Anyway, the bouncing baby boy was my father. Legend has it, she sat there, suckling the new-born and staring into the distance, thinking of an appropriate name. After much consideration and thought, she came up with the name Aress, which literally means someone who angers! (It is not good for a pregnant woman to be in a stressful environment or situation.) It also means, as in this context, one who was born during the journey when the wife runs away to her father’s home. I’d say she took out the anger she had for my granddad on my father by naming him the one who angers. Let’s just say she knew a few things about irony, something that seems was passed down to me…

This is how the name Aress, which is my family name came from. And it is a name that I love because it has such a cultural significance. It speaks to my Somaliness and my identity and nomadic side. I think every nomad needs a befitting name, just like every nomad is in need of camels and goats. I actually prefer it to my other names which have an Arabic origin because I feel little connection to these Arabic names. Aress is as Somali as it gets. It’s because of this that I get asked about my name. It is an ice breaker.

shakespeare-quotes-2At this point, I need to quote a great poet only because I need to appear learned so that people will continue reading the blog. It is important that I come off very smart, you know? Shakespeare once wrote, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.” According to the old bard, a name is just a name; that something or someone would essentially be the same regardless of what name we give it. The importance of a person or thing is the way it is; not because of what it is called, suggesting that names are just labels to distinguish one thing from another. But Shakespeare wasn’t an African. If he was African, his position would not be the same. Think about it. An African Shakespeare would have asked; is it a Kalenjin rose, or a Zulu or Dinka rose. Of course there would be no Kikuyu roses right? Only loses. *hides* Maybe Kalenjin roses would grow very fast. Luhya roses would perhaps have strong shins, or mazguembe. May be Somali roses would be refined and expensive (no, they would not be thin and emaciated and stubborn). Luo roses would be…? I’ll leave you to complete that sentence.

And if my grandma’s choice of name is anything to go by, it seems we as Africans have a deeper connection to names. For us, it is something to be taken seriously. It is an art.

It is because, for an African, a name does not only represent a person´s identity but a name is also regarded as a promise, a vocation and a list of expectations.

A name tells a story, of the circumstances and time of birth, parent’s reaction to the birth, descriptions of the newborn and so on. Naming is a community concern in African societies.  The names given to the child assign him or her a place in the family, the community, and the universe.

There is, as expected, a lot of drama surrounding the naming process.  Folks start juggling names a good few months before the child is born. They draw up a long list of possible names and intense debates kick off. In fact there will be a ballot. After a long process, the names are chosen. The drama does not end here of course. We will use any chance to celebrate anything; so there will be a naming ceremony after the baby arrives. The chosen names have to formalized. It is not quite simple, really. And even though colonialism eroded some of our cultural practices, there are still a lot of practices that have survived and have been retained. Fortunately, we still love to keep things close to our cultural identities. Or as Trevor Noah would say (in that strong South African accent), we still like to “keep it here.” The West could learn a few things from African naming tendencies.

So what does your name mean?

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Categories Africa, Somalis, UncategorizedTags , , , , ,

20 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?

  1. I really enjoyed reading this. It was funny and serious. The story about how your family name came about was entertaining. My name is Hamdi or Hamda (which is feminine) and it means Praise.


    1. Thank you Hamdi for sharing that.


  2. The article has aroused my thoughts on what my name means and it’s significance. Besides paying respect to my late uncle :it is a sense of identity and a name I want to edge in our Kenyan history years to come. A good article Kaka.


    1. Thats good to hear Gichangi. Thank you, and you definitely have what it takes to change this country. Godspeed.


  3. This is very interesting. Had me smiling through out the read. Sometimes laughing out loud. You have a gift Aress. MashaAllah. And you’ve just earned yourself one more fan. PS: Ifrah is one of the most common names in the somali community but I wouldn’t trade it for another. Suits me perfectly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Ifrah. And welcome to the family!


  4. Great article Aress. Have you stopped writing?!


    1. Thank you so much! I didn’t stop but i haven’t written for a while now cause of time constraints. But I’m getting back to it, in fact i will be posting something today, and hopefully will continue regularly.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Glad to hear that! Your articles are very interesting.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I always say that a name is just a word of reference but being African, a name is not just a word, it is a culture and a way of life. like in my culture, a name pays respect to the person you are named after and don’t diss Kikuyus while I am here or a throw daggers your way! love the article!


    1. and a Somali rose would definitely be thin, skinny, with a long stalk but beautiful because as much as Somalis are thin, God in His fairness made up for that with the looks *team mafisilets strong*

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Really interesting post x


  7. Indeed we as Africans take naming seriously. Keep it up!


  8. Interesting piece. Funny and serious.


  9. I really don’t know what my African name means; I inherited from grandma, may Allah preserve her amd unfortunately she does not know the meaning too. Nevertheless; I love it. It makes me feel more African. But if you were to ask me what it means; I would say precious, sweet, beautiful or anything on those lines :p. You guessed right, I love myself too much. If you here someone who goes by Navizale; ask them the meaning then let me know 🙂


    1. Interesting. It’s a unique name. I’ll let you know in the event!


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