Some people say that the name reveals personality. Some argue that the name affects the individual’s life. However, it is clear that the name reveals existing conventions and peculiarities of the society. One of the most famous leaders, Nelson Mandela, had three names.
These names can help trace the development of the society of South Africa in the first part of the twentieth century.
Nelson Mandela’s first name reveals the way the people of South Africa cherished their tribal traditions in the beginning of the twentieth century.
The first name he got was Rolihlahla, which “literally means “pulling the branch of a tree,” but its colloquial meaning more accurately would be “troublemaker.”1 Mandela notes that his childhood was a happy one even despite the wrongs of the whites’ policies.
As a boy, Mandela enjoyed playing with his numerous brothers and sisters and being in the nature. Notably, Mandela recalls that in African culture there is no such a notion as a cousin or aunt as the mother’s sister is not an aunt but the mother.
His life “and that of most Xhosas at the time, was shaped by custom, ritual, and taboo”.2 Clearly, Mandela depicts this tradition with great respect which is also a sign of his attitude towards his people’s traditions. He was proud of his name which was a part of African tradition and culture.
However, South African people who lived in the first part of the twentieth century did not enjoy freedom as British invaders tried to ‘civilize’ Africans. These attempts had certain positive effects, but they mostly had devastating impact on the development of the country.
On the one hand, Africans were given education and they could learn more about western culture to be able to fight for their rights in a more effective way. On the other hand, British people tried to make Africans believe they needed to be civilized.
Thus, young Rolihlahla went to school but he was given a new name to make it easier for British teachers or to make him forget about his cultural background. The name Nelson was given to Mandela when he was seven.3
Nelson Mandela notes that Africans of his generation all had two names.4 Admittedly, this can be regarded as a symbol of the British imperialism as Africans were under constant pressure.
The third name given to Nelson Mandela was Dalibunga, meaning “founder of the Bunga”5. Mandela notes that he was proud of this name which was the symbol of his empowerment as he became an adult who could take part in discussions.
After that, he could express his viewpoint and he was listened to. Apart from Nelson’s personal empowerment, his third name can be regarded as a symbol of African’s empowerment. There was the moment when Africans understood the value and importance of their heritage.
They started their attempts to regain their power over their own land. They cherished their traditions and tried to continue living in accordance with those conventions.
On balance, it is possible to note that the history of Nelson Mandela’s naming can be regarded as a certain reflection of the life in South Africa in the first part of the twentieth century.
Thus, Africans lived their own lives and cherished traditions of their ancestors and took pride in what they were, but British people came and tried to ‘civilize’ Africans. Nonetheless, these people managed to preserve their culture and become empowered.
Mandela, Nelson. Long Walk to Freedom. New York, NY: Little Brown and Company, 1995.
- Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom (New York: Little Brown and Company, 1995), 3.
- Ibid., 11.
- Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom (New York: Little Brown and Company, 1995), 13.
- Ibid., 28.