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Updated June 8, 2023

South Africa is full of so many diverse people. If you have a South African last name, you may find it in one of the categories below. Feel free to also check out the history of these surnames as well to help you learn a little bit more about your background.

The History of South African Surnames

It is important to know that there are over 10 official languages in South Africa. This is why many last names technically have different origins. Examples are Afrikaans, Xhosa, Zulu, Ndebele, and Tswana to name a few. This also doesn’t include some of the well-known tribes like Igbo and Yoruba. The entire continent of Africa is so incredibly diverse and all of its traditions are pulled from all over, making it one huge melting pot.

Naming Traditions in South Africa

The people of South Africa take inspiration from several sources when it comes to surnames. Some are based on one’s village or tribe, personal characteristics, or where they live.

The Xhosa people use their family name or clan name. Much like Scotland, most last names can date back to a particular patriarch within the tribe that which the name was based. The Igbo people do not use family names. Their names are based on male lineage. Even though both of these peoples reside in South Africa, their customs are radically different.

Popular South African Surnames and Meanings 

  1. Abara - This surname is of Igbo origin and it means “spirit.”
  2. Adebisi - The meaning of this last name is “the king” and it is of Yoruba origin.
  3. Chidubem - This name is Igbo for “God is my guide.”
  4. Igwe - Many Igbo people in South Africa have this last name. It means “a holder of a title of respect in Igboland.”
  5. Keita - This is an African name that means “offspring” or “blessing.” It is both a family name and a unisex given name.
  6. Kimathi - This is a surname of Kenyan origin and it means “earnest provider. It is one of the most common surnames among the Kenyan people.
  7. Masondo - This is a very common surname in South Africa. It means “wheels” in Zulu.
  8. Mensah - The meaning of this surname is “born third” in the Akan language. It is a common name in Ghana.
  9. Nnadi - In Igbo, this last name means “the father lives.”
  10. Okeke - This name means “born on Eke” in Igbo. “Eke” is one of the Igbo days of the week.
  11. Okusanya - This is a Yoruba surname and it means “God has rewarded me for my suffering.”
  12. Phukuntsi - The meaning of this name is “one who attracts flies” in Tswana.
  13. Zadzisai - In Shona, this name means “fulfillment of a promise.”

Traditional South African Surnames

  1. Abimbola - This is a unisex given name and a Yoruba surname that means “born with wealth.”
  2. Bankole - The meaning of this name is “build my house for me” in Yoruba.
  3. Bhule - This last name is of Xhosa origin and it means “handsome.”
  4. Chidozie - In Igbo, this name means “God may fix it for me.”
  5. Eze - This is a traditional South African name that comes from Eastern Nigeria. It means “king.”
  6. Kasongo - The meaning of this last name is “bushbuck” and is of Congolese origin.
  7. Mambwe - This surname is used by the people of the Mambwe Tribe in Zambia.
  8. Odili - This name is of Nigerian origin and was once common in South Africa. It means “peace.”
  9. Quansah - The meaning of this Akan last name is “God is watching you.”
  10. Uduike - The meaning of this name is “fullness of power” in Igbo.

More South African Surnames

  1. Biko - This name is Bantu for “people of the people.”
  2. Abebe - This is an Ethiopian name of Amharic origin that means “flower.”
  3. Dlamini - The meaning of this surname is “royal family” in Zulu.
  4. Gumede - This last name is of Zulu origin. It means “to end what you have started.”
  5. Khumalo - The meaning of this name is “descendants of the fish tribe” in Ndebele.
  6. Mandela - In Xhosa, this surname means “gift of God.”
  7. Mbatha - This name means “to cover yourself” or “to protect” in Zulu.
  8. Nkosi - This name come from the Nguni and Zulu word for “king.”
  9. Radebe - The meaning of this surname is “ancestor of the Amahlubi” in Zulu.
  10. Tutu - Meaning “wealth,” this South African last name is of Subiya origin.

Stefanie Miller

About Stefanie

Stefanie is an experienced parenting writer and has published works in other publications… Read more

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