Nelson Mandela's other names

By nelsonmandela.org Updated at 2013-06-25 07:12:00 +0000

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Mr. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is sometimes called by other names with each having its own special meaning and story.

Rolihlahla – This is Mandela’s birth name: it is an isiXhosa name which means “pulling the branch of a tree”, but colloquially it means “troublemaker”. His father gave him this name.

Nelson – This name was given to him on his first day at school by his teacher, Miss Mdingane. Giving African children English names was a custom among Africans in those days and was influenced by British colonials who could not easily, and often would not, pronounce African names. It is unclear why Miss Mdingane chose the name “Nelson” for Mandela.

Madiba – This is the name of the clan of which Mandela is a member. A clan name is much more important than a surname as it refers to the ancestor from which a person is descended. Madiba was the name of a Thembu chief who ruled in the Transkei in the 18th century. It is considered very polite to use someone’s clan name.

Tata – This isiXhosa word means “father” and is a term of endearment that many South Africans use for Mandela. As a father figure to many, he is called Tata regardless of age.

Khulu – Mandela is often called “Khulu”, which means great, paramount, grand. The speaker means “Great One” when referring to Mandela in this way. It is also a shortened form of the isiXhosa word “uBawomkhulu” for “grandfather”.

Dalibhunga – This is the name Mandela was given at the age of 16 once he had undergone initiation, the traditional Xhosa rite of passage into manhood. It means “creator or founder of the council” or “convenor of the dialogue”. The correct use of this name when greeting Mandela is “Aaah! Dalibhunga”.

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