Ever suspected shortages of namesake for the new born Somali babies in Diaspora? Will you call your little son and daughter Ugaso and Guled respectively? In extreme cases, how about other exotic and super-religious brands like Abu Mansur or Turk for that matter? It all depends.
But let me first recall close personal encounter of an eye-opening incident decade ago. It was typical hot summer evening (a welcome relief from the bone-chilling Canadian winter) and an occasional rendezvous of sort among close acquaints was well underway in the room. A young Orient-Canadian mother sat across the table. Hazel held her playful enfant in her lap while affectionately entertaining with motherly instinct. Asked about the gender and name of the baby, she said he was a boyand then added that he goes by the name of Ugaso – his father’s best choice of Somali namesake. Something was amiss about the sound in relation with its gender identity context. Still suspecting faulty accent on the part of her impeccable English mother tongue, I insisted on few more times to get it right without success.
Next, I prompted up the question to Khader, a Somali father from Togdher, who was also present in the room. He tried to elude the subject at once, but as I pressed further on he confirmed with awkward, low voice of the fact. It turned out that toddler’s namesake was Khader’s proud grandmother and personal hero. Asked why not choose Ugas for a male gender case instead of Ugaso, he cited lack of awareness of any subtle grammatical or gender issue differences between the two versions.
He got plenty of reasons for the missing cultural link and mix-up: Khader spent most of his life in the Diaspora — first in Mid-east and later in the West. Such unfortunate situation is by no means unique among young generation. The post-conflict generations (and even pre-war group in some cases) are increasingly facing a host of serious challenges including religious, social and cultural identity pitfalls. All Khader intended was to pay tribute of sort to the sweet childhood memories of grandma.
Speaking of iconic grandmother, most of us have some fond memories of caring grandmothers’ unconditional love, noble upbringing and generosities in one form or another. They deserve utmost respect and praise from us in any way we can. There is no better way to pay tribute than honoring their namesakes through our beloved offspring.
This reminds my own extraordinaire grandmother, Khadaro Elabe, whom I spent with the best parts of somber childhood years. Though I’m told that I was dyslexic with shaky upright steps in the first few years, she used to call me Talaabo Way or gigantic stepsin defiance the other people’s negative opinion pertinent to my conditions. More importantly, I remember running back and forth from her tiny hut often with a fistful of precious household supply of sugar (getting candies or chocolate was unattainable dream back then.) Unlike my practical mother who had little tolerance for handing out such rare household commodity with lame excuses, Khadaro remained cherished source of sweets of corner semi-store for the grandchildren. And for that simple reason and more I have decided early on to commemorate her name through my future daughters. But I have no daughters so far and the name of my seven years old son is Samatar in honor of my grandfather on maternal side.
There is no better way to pay their heroic sacrifices than the above cited approach, but what is equally important is doing in the right way in terms of originality, linguistic and cultural context. To the young generation in the Diaspora, this concept seems little understood topic and they are not necessarily at fault. Older generations are not setting better example either.
Evidently, Somali character has shown time and again notorious inconsistence on few critical fronts such as patriotism, social justice, xenophile propensity (affinity with strangers and worst enemy among) and personal loyalty. Troubles of the namesakes are not exception. If you have doubts of what I mean, look no further than the so-called oral tribal lineage to find some glaring discrepancy. By tracing back ancestral names, one might come across unpredictable, alternating Arabic and Indigenous names for every few generations. Besides, what do you make of grown men with well known names and CVs styling themselves with Abu Turk and Abu Oteiba overnight in the name of religious false pretense?
Latest episode reminds one more entertaining yet critical radio clips from the BBC Somali service of golden era –way back before Yousuf Garad & Co and the alleged mob-journalism ethics overran the Bush House. There used to be program entitled “What’s in a Name “whereby duo artists (Abdulkadir Yamyam and Dhegjer) mocked and rightly so about culturally tasteless namesakes of urban-born youngsters. Parents were predominantly from poor, nomadic background who later immigrated to the cities in search of better opportunity during post-independence bubble. They subsequently constituted the bulk of up-start elite class and civil servants of a young nation.
These folk who should know better when it comes to cultural menu came up will kinds of laughable stuff as a namesake for the babies. According to the mock, Aspirin, Xiis iyo Xoorkii Jacaylka were among the new trend. Compare that with traditional Somali names like Bahdon, Jilaal or Roble in terms of substance and scope. Still, my favorites of the all-time remain some beastly but extremely colorful ones like Bahal, Beileh, Dhidar et.al from the gem of ancient Awdal tradition and beyond.
Despite the gloomy picture, there is still good news in that some traditional Somali are making comeback in Diaspora scenes and of course due to some bare minimum of cultural necessities. In close-knit ethnic urban enclaves, it is not uncommon to overheard dozens of Libans or Samatars for boys and Simans and Idils among young girls, to mention few. The only trouble with it is an ever decreasing pool or spectrum of desirable choices, and especially for families with multiple kids.
On the whole, you may still wonder about the level of urgency of the said issue within the community in general. Further, in light of other socio-economic, spiritual and cultural degeneration that our society suffers, one could be forgiven if he has given little thought about any notion of secondary interest topic like namesake of its new members. It sounds last thing that people could be concerned with now. But that is not necessarily the case for obvious reasons including (1) the significant attached onto it in terms of linguistic, religious or cultural factors. (2) It is a primary source of identity for a person, and long before the influence of linguistic, ethnicity and other socio-cultural elements overtake (3) Personal namesake qualifies the most precious and lasting gift that any caring parent passes to the progeny and therefore it deserves the utmost care whenever choosing one for a baby. (4) Diaspora community is increasingly facing cultural conundrum due to domineering and sophisticated adoptive cultures that pushes, regardless of whether state sanctioned policy or not, toward complete assimilation in the near future.
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As for severity of the matter, I’m not too sure but there are ominous signs of trouble on the horizon that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Young folks (foreign born or raised) will not get the comfort of close-knit community and relatives within next generation or so. No aging relatives, godfathers, midwives and handy religious or traditional figure willing to toss up free advice at the birth will be around like before. Sooner or later, they will be left to fend off themselves. Planning ahead by learning whatever tips and techniques available seem the best coping strategy.
Tips are often common logic depending on the scope or identity awareness of the prospective parents and among other things (a) to plan ahead before the occasion and before the stress of maternity room good move. (b) To know and choose category that fits your test is another trick. Names can be divided into traditional, religious, creative, exotic and so on, but traditional and religious ones (not super-charged religious types) are preferable. (c) If you are in favor of religious one, be careful about the choice. Despite all the equality and human rights mantras, still systemic barriers of Islamo-phobia, xenophobia and racism problems that affect employment opportunity, living standards, campus admissions, etc. of kids are well alive in the West. You don’t want to call your child Al-Zewahiri, Abu Nidal etc. (d) To consult with family members, friends, acquaints and even neighbors with the same origin whenever possible is good idea (e) Stick with the simple ones in terms of spelling and pronunciation is one more technique and that is where traditional names come in handy. (f) Seek the help of religious or traditional authority of nearest Somali community center and if they do not offer any, suggest being included it in their resources.
Mohamed A. Awale