Why Nelson Mandela has six names
(CNN) — Nelson Mandela became an international figure while enduring 27 years in prison for fighting against apartheid, South Africa’s system of racial segregation. But while the world may know him as “Mandela,” the man considered to be the founder of South Africa’s democracy is known by a number of others names in his own country. Some of the monikers date from his childhood, while others reflect the respect felt for an anti-apartheid hero and the country’s first black president.
- Rolihlahla: At birth he was given the name Rolihlahla Mandela by his father, Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Henry, according to the Nelson Mandela Foundation. In Xhosa, one of six official languages of South Africa, “Rolihlahla” means “pulling the branch of a tree.” More commonly, it’s said to mean “troublemaker.”
- Nelson: The name “Nelson” first made an appearance when the young Mandela was at primary school. According to the Nelson Mandela Foundation, it was given to him by his teacher, Miss Mdingane, on the first day of school in the village of Qunu, but it’s unclear why she chose that particular name. It was the early 1920s and, at that time, it was customary to give African children English names to make them easier for British colonials to pronounce.
- Madiba: In South Africa, Mandela is most commonly referred to as Madiba, the name of the Thembu clan to which he belongs. Madiba was the name of a Thembu chief who, in the 19th century, ruled over a region called the Transkei in the country’s southeast. Referring to Mandela as Madiba is a sign of endearment and respect, according to the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
- Tata: Considered the founding father of democracy in South Africa, Mandela is also referred to by many as simply “Tata,” the Xhosa word for “father.”
- Khulu: The Xhosa language also offers another term of endearment for Mandela. “Khulu” is the shortened word for “uBawomkhulu,” which means “grandfather.” The word also means “great, paramount, grand,” according to the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
- Dalibhunga: At the age of 16, Mandela, like other Xhosa boys, was formally initiated into manhood through a traditional Xhosa ceremony. At the time, he was given the name of Dalibhunga, which means “creator or founder of the council” or “convenor of the dialogue,” according to the Nelson Mandela Foundation. It adds that, when using the name to greet Mandela, the correct usage is “Aaah! Dalibhunga.”
Of course, Mandela’s family use many terms of endearment for him: his grandchildren use variants of “grandfather”, like “granddad” for instance. His wife Graca Machel frequently uses “papa.”
By Kim Norgaard & Hilary Whiteman
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