names of nelson mandela
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Mr. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is sometimes called by several other names. While each name has its own special meaning and story, not too many people know these names or what they mean. We’ve decided to highlight some of these names so you should know them, what you are saying and why. So here is a brief explanation of the many names of Nelson Mandela:

Madiba 

In South Africa, Mandela is most commonly referred to as Madiba which was the name of the Thembu clan from which Nelson Mandela came to be. According to South African history, Madiba was the name of a Thembu chief who was a famous ruler who ruled over a region called the Transkei in the country’s southeast. That was as far back as the 19th century. It is noteworthy that in South Africa, A clan name is much more important and respected than a surname as the clan name makes reference to the ancestor from which a person is descended.

Although the name was used by Mandela before his death, it was after that it generated a lot of attention from people. It is said that the man reclaimed the name so as to embrace his Africanness while downplaying the name Nelson. And it is also used to signify his fatherly role in the country.

See Also: Why Nelson Mandela Was Called Madiba

Nelson 

The name “Nelson” was given to the young Mandela as a primary school pupil. According to the Nelson Mandela Foundation, it was given to him by his teacher, Miss Mdingane, on the very first day he attended school in Qunu village, but it’s yet unclear why she chose that particular name.


A probable reason would be that there is nothing really significant about her giving him the name. This is most especially as giving African children English names was a popular custom among teachers in the schools in those days as a result of the influence of the British colonials who could not easily and often would not, pronounce African names.

Rolihlahla 

This is actually Mr. Mandela’s original birth name: it is an isiXhosa name that means “pulling the branch of a tree”, but colloquially it means “troublemaker”. It is a name given to him by his father for which he lived up to in a very “positive” way.

See Also: Best Nelson Mandela Quotes

Among the names of Nelson Mandela, this was the name that was given to him by his father, Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Henry. It later got missing in the name given to him by his teacher, Nelson and his surname, Mandela.

Dalibhunga 

In most African traditional communities, there is always the period of initiation for young boys or girls into adulthood. Different cultures do it differently as while in some places the young ones becoming adults are given pieces of lands or partners to marry. In the case of the Xhosas, it is different as you get to have a name.

This is the name Mr. Mandela was the one given to the man at the age of 16 when he was ready for initiation following the traditional Xhosa rite of passage into manhood. The name means “creator or founder of the council” or “convenor of the dialogue”. The correct use of this name when greeting Mr. Mandela is “Aaah! Dalibhunga”.

See Also: Nelson Mandela’s Biography – His Life and Death

Tata 

This is an isiXhosa word that means “father”. The name has become a sign of respect and to show how dear the man is to the people of not just his own tribe, but the entire country. Many South Africans have taken to the use of the name for Mr. Mandela due to his fatherly concern for his nation as well as his fatherly sacrifices.

It becomes very interesting when you realize that even people who were older than the man also called him Tata.

Khulu 

The name “Khulu”, means great, paramount or grand. This implies “Great One” when referring to Mr. Mandela. It is also a shortened form of the isiXhosa word “uBawomkhulu” which means “grandfather”.

The significance of the name is to indicate that he has become more than just a father since he has already and grandchildren. At the same time, the name was used by many people even those that were not related to him.

Other Names –

There are other names of Nelson Mandela that were just to show endearment for him which include “Grandfather”, “Granddad” “Papa” among several others.