5+ Lesser Known Names of Nelson Mandela

Mr Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is sometimes called by several other names. While each name has its own special meaning and story behind it, 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 each name.


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 and in the 19th century, ruled over a region called the Transkei in the country’s southeast. 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.

See Also: Why Nelson Mandela Was Called Madiba


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 giving African children English names was a popular custom among Africans in those days as a result of the influence of the British colonials who could not easily, and often would not, pronounce African names.


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


This is the name Mr 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 Mr Mandela is “Aaah! Dalibhunga”.

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


This is an isiXhosa word that means “father” it has become a term of endearment that many South Africans now use for Mr Mandela due to his fatherly concern for his nation.


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”.

Other Names –

There are other names of endearment for him which include “Grandfather”, “Granddad” “Papa” among several others.