Clan Praise Names History and Origin

Clan praise names play an integral role in isiXhosa culture, honoring our ancestors while simultaneously defining one’s cultural identity within their community. When speaking with someone new it is considered courteous to ask about their clan name first.

Such poems are typically performed during weddings, funerals and initiation ceremonies to recognize and honour achievements within a clan or lineage as well as foster pride among clan members.

Clan Praise Names

Zulu Clans

Mkhize Clan

  1. Mkhize
  2. Gcwabe
  3. Dingila
  4. Jama ka Mnisi
  5. Donda

Buthelezi Clan

  1. Buthelezi
  2. Mnyamana
  3. Shenge
  4. Mpithimpithi
  5. Ndaba

Dlamini Clan

  1. Dlamini
  2. Mlondo
  3. Khumalo
  4. Ndlovu
  5. Sithole

Khumalo Clan

  1. Khumalo
  2. Mntungwa
  3. Mashobane
  4. Hadebe
  5. Nyanga

Xhosa Clans

Tshawe Clan

  1. Tshawe
  2. Nkosiyamntu
  3. Gcaleka
  4. Phalo
  5. Rharhabe

Gcaleka Clan

  1. Gcaleka
  2. Cirha
  3. Rhudulu
  4. Zizi
  5. Ntinde

Dlamini Zizi Clan

  1. Dlamini
  2. Zizi
  3. Mzizi
  4. Mzondo
  5. Ntsele

Sotho Clans

Motaung Clan

  1. Motaung
  2. Tau
  3. Mothoagae
  4. Mamoeletsi
  5. Mohube

Moloi Clan

  1. Moloi
  2. Thabane
  3. Tsotetsi
  4. Mahlakgane
  5. Rakoma

Ndebele Clans

Mahlangu Clan

  1. Mahlangu
  2. Mgwezane
  3. Manzini
  4. Kgwatalala
  5. Bhungane

Sibindi Clan

  1. Sibindi
  2. Makhedama
  3. Matsebula
  4. Sgidi
  5. Magalela

Tswana Clans

Kwena Clan

  1. Kwena
  2. Mokwena
  3. Segwagwa
  4. Mogopa
  5. Motlhabane

Bafokeng Clan

  1. Bafokeng
  2. Ramokgopa
  3. Mokgatle
  4. Rasethaba
  5. Pilane


Clan praise names are an integral part of isiXhosa culture and serve a different function than surnames: while surnames pass from father to son, clan praises commemorate achievements by an ancestor, making for an easy way to connect on an intimate cultural level with others. Enquiring after someone’s clan name can lead to meaningful cultural discussions.

Clan praises are a common feature in isiXhosa society, yet very little research on them has been undertaken. Studies conducted so far have largely focused on panegyric forms of clan praises or on panegyric praise poems written among Southern Bantu peoples.

Clan praises are written and performed by clan elders on special occasions such as weddings, funerals, initiation ceremonies and community gatherings to honour and celebrate their clan’s history, culture and identity while at the same time creating social cohesion and building pride within communities.

Clan praises are formed using combinations of nouns and adjectives which have undergone phonological processing, for instance combining umuthi (tree) with the adjective omkhulu (big tree) produces Mthimkhulu as an example. Most clan praises use the first noun from class 3 while class 11 provides their second noun; adding prefix u- to create new words is typically involved here.


Clan praises are poetic compositions written specifically to celebrate the culture and history of a clan. Recited or performed during special occasions like weddings, funerals, initiation ceremonies or any other formal events related to clan membership they serve to commemorate its achievements while building pride among members.

According to Thwala (2018:1), clan praises are an integral component of Swati culture and historical norms. Used across a spectrum of social settings from formal greetings between acquaintances to thanking loved ones to making requests and consulting ancestors as well as seeking permission to enter particular homesteads, clan praises serve as a form of cultural representation depicting its history, related surnames, heroes or totems as well as any associated philosophies or values associated with them.

Clan praise is determined by its root word and any attached morphemes such as prefixes and suffixes, while context may further define its meaning; for example, calling out clans with cow as totem may imply they are strong and courageous individuals.

Though Lestrade reported that clan-praises are widely utilized across southern Africa, scholars of African oral literature have paid little heed to them. This could be explained by a greater focus on individual praise poetry devoted to kings, chiefs, great warriors, and statesmen among Southern Bantu peoples.


Clan praise names honor our ancestors and serve to keep their memories alive, as well as providing a link between individuals and identity within amaXhosa nation. Enquiring after someone’s clan name can be seen as a mark of respect; when women marry they often take on both surnames but retain their clan name in addition.

Reciting the Seboko (clan praise poem) demonstrates one’s pride for their clan’s heritage and achievements, serving as an affirmation of themselves and self. Reciting such praise poems publically can serve as an effective form of self-affirmation – especially during wartime when this can serve as an effective weapon against an adversary.

Lestrade noted that, despite the abundance of individual praise-poems that describe Southern Bantu leaders such as kings, chiefs, great warriors and statesmen who exist among these peoples, clan praise-names were used much more frequently – especially at formal gatherings or family ceremonies or when strangers addressed each other ceremonially – than individual praise-names were heard on these occasions. Unfortunately this observation seems to have been overlooked by subsequent writers, perhaps because individual praise-poems became so prominent features in oral literature of Southern Bantu peoples oral literature.


Clan names in Xhosa culture are considered vital and serve a variety of functions. From honoring our ancestors to creating an identity within AmaXhosa nation, they serve an integral purpose. Furthermore, asking someone their clan name shows respect.

The Xhosa clan system differs significantly from Western cultures’ surname system in that it’s based on family lineage rather than birth order. An individual’s clan name is passed down from their father and has more to do with cultural identity than surname does; even after marriage people often retain their original clan name as it holds meaning for cultural identification and cultural tradition.

Scholars have long focused on individual praise-poems about great kings, chiefs, and other high-ranking figures as a method for appreciating them. Lestrade observed in 1933 that clan praise-names were far more prevalent: ‘Clan praise-names can be heard at any occasion requiring formality or special politeness of address, such as at meetings of council of tribesmen or family conclaves or when strangers address each other ceremoniously’.

Although little research has been conducted on clan praise-names, they merit further examination. This project seeks to collect, classify and analyze clan praise-names in two settlements in Swaziland in order to gain an understanding of their nature, function and relationship to other forms of oral poetry.

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