25 Apr 2024

The Meaning of Naag Nool

The Meaning of Naag Nool


Zahra is an Indian Iranian creative who loves learning. Her particular areas of interest are culture & identity. Outside of researching, writing and collating stories together, she’s an avid reader and traveller.

The Meaning of Naag Nool

What is a Naag Nool? Whilst the direct translation of the phrase means ‘Living woman,’ it embodies so much more to Somali women.

Adna, 25-year-old Somali creative from Leicester, created a short film about the phrase.

With this opportunity, she wanted to bring attention to the broader public on what a Naag Nool is, and what exactly it meant to the community.

‘Naag nool is a phrase that is used a lot in daily vernacular’, says Adna.

‘To me, that phrase really embodies what it means to be a Somali woman. We’re encouraged to use that phrase because it means ‘living woman’, and it’s a way to describe someone that is confident, ambitious, and can overcome adversity.’

The short film was created through a project called IN THE MIX, which was created in collaboration with the Black Creators Matter and BBC Studio TalentWorks, in partnership with the Barbican.

The project was designed to create exceptional, inclusive and inspiring development experiences for black content creators.

The short piece featured three different women on very different paths. Football coach and founder of Hilltop FC, Iqra, social media influencer Hani and her mother, and CEO & community leader, Safia.

The piece highlighted that despite each woman choosing a different path, they all embodied this iconic phrase; they were all Naag Nool’s.

We caught up with Adna to find out more about her inspiration for creating the documentary, her experiences as a British Somali and how this impacted her outlook on the phrase.

What’s your own experience that sparked the idea of producing this piece?

‘In terms of my self-development, a lot of the life lessons I have learned as I’ve gotten older have come from the women around me, and a lot of them are Somali.

Our characteristics and outlook on life are very specific. We’re very confident, motivated and ambitious. We have a strong element to our personality.

Somali women are so strong, feisty, confident and ambitious, but this isn’t really understood outside of the Somali community. I wanted to showcase the way that I see Somali women.’

Growing up as a British Somali woman, what were some challenges you found regarding your identity?

‘I think the most prominent thing for me was navigating being a woman being Muslim and being black at the same time.

I found that growing up, it was only in spaces with other Somali people that I could truly feel comfortable and be myself.

When you’re in spaces with Muslims from different ethnic backgrounds, you can be subject to racism, which is an experience I’ve had, unfortunately.

Similarly, when you’re in spaces with black people that aren’t Muslim, there are also cultural and religious differences.’

Thinking about the landscape of identity, how do you think being a British Somali has shaped your understanding of being a naag nool? Knowing your identity is connected to a different place but not having the same access to that; how do you think that shapes the term?

‘We were raised with not many people around us that had the same experience growing up here.

We’re still seeing our Mothers and family members adjusting to a different way of life. 

Because of this, when you’re going through things, you haven’t got many people to refer to or ask for advice. For example, my parents weren’t born here. I can’t ask them for advice about growing up here, or how they navigated things like University because they didn’t have that.

A lot of my friends didn’t have that either, and because of this, we felt like we had to be extra ambitious, extra courageous and strong.

We were the first to do things like going to university and having a 9-5 career in our families.’

Pictured: Iqra Ismail with a football

Do you feel like there’s almost a burden to excel and be a strong woman?

‘For our mothers and aunties that have moved here, the pressure is different from ours, because the pressure was to provide and maintain and sustain a community in the household.

For us, it’s like navigating a world that is not built for us to succeed, and so you have to be really strong.

I wouldn’t say that it’s a burden, but it definitely motivates you more than the average person.

You have to work a lot harder to achieve what you want, which is why so many Somali women are so ambitious.

People like Hani who started their own YouTube channel, and people like Safia set up community centres. There is this ambition to build something and make life easier for the younger generation.

We don’t want people younger than us to have to go through the same kind of pitfalls.

A lot of our parents came to the UK after a civil war. Their lives were interrupted.

A lot of them have given up their dream so that their kids can have the chance to succeed and do the things that they want to do, so you do feel this pressure to be successful because you want to make sure their sacrifice wasn’t in vain.

The phrase implies excellence. It implies someone is doing a lot and they are the best version of themselves. But I think there’s also nuance to everything.

I think when you look at it at face value, you’d see it as that, but it is used as a term of endearment and encouragement. People use it as a way to motivate themselves. 

‘Naag nool iska dhig’

When you’re not being super strong or being the best version of yourself, you will be told ‘Naag nool iska dhig,’ which means get back up, dust your shoulders and get back into it.

There is a general understanding of the phrase, but people see it differently. For example, Hani’s mother is a naag nool, but she hasn’t set up a football team or set up a community centre. What she’s done is she’s raised eight kids and has given them a beautiful life.

She’s given them opportunities and was there for them, gave them a home and empowered them so that they feel like they can achieve the things that they want to do.

Some people have an understanding of Naag Nool being high achieving in their career, and others will see it as impacting and nurturing the people around you. Some people will see it as impacting the people around you and staying motivated in adversity.’


What does naag nool mean to you?

‘To me, it is about someone being excellent. Someone that overcomes life’s daily struggles and is able to stand up for herself.

A woman that’s confident in her abilities and the things she can achieve. It’s someone that is an asset to their community, contributing in ways they can.

And it’s someone that is almost fighting the system and being the best version of themselves, in whatever way that means.

They do things with pride and are unapologetic about what they want to do and who they are.’

You can watch Adna’s short film here.

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