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Mammal Names

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Mammal Names

Unread post by pardus » Sun May 14, 2006 12:09 am

Below an interesting article on African animal names

What's in an Animal's Name?
By Rael Loon, Kruger Park Times

What’s in an animal’s name? Most of us are familiar with many of South African animals common names or descriptive names. Some of the keener naturalists refer to animals by their Latin or scientific name. These can be of particular interest as many of the common names are derived from the Latin name. Afrikaans names are also wonderfully descriptive in their translations. It is always interesting to try to find out some of the origins of these names. For example is there a connection between monk and monkey?

Is there a connection between spied and spider? Bat and bat-an-eyelid? Horse and hoarse? Aardvark as earthpig? Hippopotamus is literally translated as ‘river horse’ in Greek or ‘seacow’ in Afrikaans. Not too many of us, however, are familiar with the derivation of many of the African names. Credo Mutwa explains some of these in his book ”Isilwane – The animal”, while several Tsonga idioms provide a rich interpretation of some familiar African names…

King of the Beasts
For example ingonyame, the Zulu word for lion means ‘the master of all flesh’. This name consists of two words, ngo, meaning very high, and nyama, which means ‘flesh’ or power. Another Zulu term for lion is ibubesi, which comes from the verb bhubeza meaning ‘to make the final decision’, supporting the belief that the lion is king of the beasts. In Tsonga, ‘ku va nghala’, ‘to be a lion’ refers to being brave and ‘ku lwa xinghala’ translates ‘to fight like a lion’.

The Noble Leopard
All African tribes regard the leopard as an animal that symbolizes all that is noble, courageous and honorable. It is called ingwe by the Zulus and nkwe by the Basutos. These words originally meant ‘pure sovereignty’ or ‘pure kingship’. In very ancient times, a king who supposedly ruled over other kings among the Botswana tribes was called nkwetona.

The Unstoppable One
African people regard the elephant with a very deep reverence. The Zulu, Tswana and Tsonga names for the elephant all mean ‘the forceful one’, ‘the unstoppable one’. In Zulu the name for an elephant is indlovu, from the verb dlovu, which means to ’crash through’, ‘to pierce savagely’. The Tswana and Sotho word for elephant, tlou, and the Tsonga word njovu also carry this meaning. Several Tsonga idioms provide food for thought: ‘ku ba ndlopfu hi xibakele’ translates to ‘hit an elephant with a fist’, i.e. ‘to make a very slight impression’. ‘Nkari wa mahlemba – ndlopfu’ means ‘the time of the elephants bath’, ie ‘the early hours before dawn’.

The Uncontrollable One
The hippopotamus is regarded by African people as a symbol of rebellion, uncontrollability and unruliness. The Tswana name for the animal is kubu which means ‘rebellion’ or ‘rebelliousness’. It also means ‘sudden awakening’ which in Setswana is kubuga. African people also believe that the hippo is an animal of confusion because it cannot make up its mind whether it is a rhinoceros or an elephant. The Zulu people call the hippo invubu. This word has several meanings one of which has to do with mixing from the verb vuba which means ‘to mix’, ‘to knit together ’ or ‘to combine’. In this sense the word invubu means ‘the mixed up creature’ or the creature which is unable to make up its mind what it is!

A Champion Fighter
Two idioms dealing with crocodiles are ‘kuva ngwenya emutini’ - to be a croc in the village - implies ‘to be a champion fighter’, whilst ‘ku tshama ni ngwenya emutini’ translates ‘to live with a dangerous person in the village.’

To Outshine
The Bakgatla is a tribe that live in the North West Province and Botswana. At one time, the Bakgatlas were one of the most powerful Tswana-speaking tribes in Southern Africa. They regard the monkey as a totem and call it kgathla or kgabu, which means; ‘to dazzle’, ‘to outshine’ or to ‘impress very deeply ’. The monkey is known as ‘the impressive one’ or ‘the one who outshines all’. Kgabu comes from the kgaba or kgabesa, which means to ‘decorate richly ’.

When Bakgatla people wish the king or chief a long and prosperous life, they use the following words: ‘May it climb the tallest tree and eat the gum of long life, the monkey.’ Baboon in Zulu is called imfene. This word comes from the verb fana which means ‘to resemble’. This implicitly means ‘that which resembles a human being! ‘Ku banana hi rhambu mfene’ means in Tsonga ‘to hit each other with a baboon’s bone’, i.e. ‘to exchange gifts with relatives only’.

The Purifier
South African people know the hyena by its Zulu name, impisi , while some tribes in Zimbabwe call it sisi. These words literally mean ‘the purifier ’, ‘the cleaner’, ‘the one who makes things orderly ’. This name is indicative of the hyena’s tendency to tidy up the carcasses on which it feeds. In Sestwana the hyena is called sephiri or phiri. This means the ‘animal of the secret’ because the hyena moves in secret usually in darkness and silently. The Shangaan people associate the hyena with evil and witchcraft. ‘Ku va mhisi’, in Tsonga means to be a hyena, i.e. a hard and fearless worker. ‘Ku va ni matimaba ya mhisi,’ i.e. ‘to have the strength of a hyena’, that is to be strong and evil.

The Humble One
The eland appears in hundreds of fables and legends. We are all familiar with eland figures being decorated in Bushman rock art. Zulu-speaking people call the eland impofu, which is a word with several meanings. One is ‘golden-skinned one’; another is ‘poor one’ or the ‘humble one’. In Zulu, to be poor is mpfou and a poor person is regarded as mpofana. Poverty was equated with humility in ancient times.

The Bastawana and Sothos called the eland pofu, which means the same thing. Other antelope with symbolic names include the Sable which is called inkolongwane in Zulu which means ‘the ululating’. In Sesotho it is called mugulukwane, and apparently in old Setswana and Sesotho gulukwane which means ‘the one over whom people ululate.’

Ugly But Honoured
Despite its ugly appearance, African people hold the wildebeest in such reverence that the Zulu word for wildebeest: nkonkoni is used to denote a champion or leader in any field. The wisest and greatest traditional healer in any community is always called the ‘inkonkoni’. The best football player in any township is always nicknamed ‘nkonkoni’ in tribute to his football skills.

The Feared One
The chameleon is feared and revered by many African people. The Zulu people call the chameleon inwabu, which means ‘the one who moves very lazily’. Another name, which people call the chameleon is libido, a strange term which has to do with decay: buhodu, ‘the rotting one’ or ‘the one who causes decay ’. In Tsonga, ‘ku va ni mahiri ya lampfana’, means to have the tricks of a chameleon ‘, ie to be a liar.

Several other idioms dealing with reptiles include ones dealing with tortoises and snakes: ‘Ku dlokodla nyoka’, ‘to poke at a snake’, i.e. to provoke a peaceful person. ‘Ku dlokodla mfutsu’ translates to ‘to poke at a tortoise’, that is to put someone on the alert. ‘Ku siya hi mfutsu’, ‘to be outrun by a tortoise’, to be exceedingly slow. ‘Ku twa nyoka’, to ‘hear the snake’, ie to feel hungry. ‘Ku miyeta nyoka, ‘to quiten the snake’, that is to eat.

Always A Twist
As can be seen there is much more to an animal’s name that normally meets the eye. The English, Afrikaans, Latin, Zulu, Tsonga, Sesotho and Setswana interpretation all tell their own story giving a truly First World versus Third World cosmopolitan mix of perceptions of some of South Africa’s wildlife. There is always a twist to these animals’ tales! Searching for the origins of these names can be a creative and rewarding exercise. Remembering a few of these stories and idioms about some of these.

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Unread post by Freda » Sun May 14, 2006 4:27 pm

Field Guides are taught to use the african names for animals especially when speaking to each other on their radios, this is so that their clients don't understand and don't encourage them to speed to a sighting.
It works in the private game reserves as only three vehicles are usually allowed at a sighting, as one leaves another is invited to move in.

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Animal Names (Local language)

Unread post by WillemDup » Mon Jul 31, 2006 4:07 pm

Hi All.......
I'm interested in finding the local (black language) names of the most commonly found animals in Kruger. I'm not even sure if the local language is Zulu, Swazi or other ??
If you have a contribution to make please assist ??
A link to a site where the information can be obtained will also be welcome.

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Unread post by madach » Mon Jul 31, 2006 4:52 pm

The local language in Kruger is Sjangaan which is related to Zulu.

As to your question:

Leopard - Ingwe
Lion - Ngala
Elephant - Nglove
Buffalo - Niari or Niati
Cheetah - Chincancan (spelling? pronounce skankank)
Wild Dog - Madach
Impala - Mala
Honey Badger - Sensele
Hyena - Misi
Black Rhino - Bhejane
White Rhino - Nkombe
Vulture - Khoti
Wildebeast - Hongoni
Waterbuck - Peva
Wharthog - Ngulube
Kudu - Nongo
Giraffe - Nhutlwa
Jackal - Manganjane
Baboon - Nphene
Last edited by madach on Mon Jul 31, 2006 7:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Unread post by DuQues » Mon Jul 31, 2006 4:55 pm

Which languages do you need? The eleven official languages are:
Northern Sotho

Northern Ndebele
Sign Language
Khoe, Nama and San

Dictionaries and wordlists
If you use the links that start with you get a fairly nifty page, going the wrong way though, from the SA language to English, but you can enter the name you're looking for in the search, scroll down the page and look for it there.
Example: Elephant gives
Swahili tembo, ndovu
Swazi ín-dlovu
Shona nzou
Not posting much here anymore, but the photo's you can follow here There is plenty there.

Feel free to use any of these additional letters to correct the spelling of words found in the above post: a-e-t-n-d-i-o-s-m-l-u-y-h-c

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Unread post by Arie » Mon Jul 31, 2006 6:58 pm

The 'Field Guide to the Mammals of the Kruger National Park' by Heike Schütze (ISBN 1 86872 594 4 - Struik Publishers) contains names of all mammals in Kruger in all South Africa's 11 official languages plus french and german.

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Unread post by matthew » Tue Aug 01, 2006 12:26 pm

Hi WD and welcome. There are a lot so I'll do them in a few instalments. Here's your first lot:

Vervet monkey

Afrikaans: Blou-aap
Shona: Tsoko
Ndebele: Inkawu
Zulu: Nkawu
Venda: Thobo
Tswana: Kgabo
Siswati: Ngobiyane
Sotho: Kgabo
Lozi: Njoko
Yei: Unshoko

Chacma Baboon

Afrikaans: Bobbejaan
Shona: Bveni
Ndebele: Indwanguly
Siswati: Mfene
Tswana: Tshwene
Venda: Pfene
Sotho: Tshene
Lozi: Pombwe
Yei: Uwurutwa

Tree Squirrel

Afrikaans: Boomeekhoring
Shona: Tsindi
Ndebele: Ubusinti
Venda: Tshithura
Siswati: Setlhora
Lozi: Kamale
Yei: Unshindi


Afrikaans: Ystervark
Zulu: Nungu
Venda: Nungu
Tswana: Noko
Siswati: Ngungubane
Lozi: Sinuku
Yei: Unungu

Wild Dog:

Shona: Mhumhi
Ndebele: Inganyana
Shangaan: Hlolwa
Tswana: Lethalerwa
Venda: Dalerwa
Zulu: Nkontshane
Sotho: Tlalerwa
Siswati: Budzatje
Lozi: Liakanyari
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Unread post by matthew » Wed Aug 02, 2006 1:10 pm

@ Gwen- may I finish the mammals first? :wink:

Black backed Jackal

Afrikaans: Rooijakkals
Shona: Hungubwe
Shangaan: Impungutshe
Ndebele: Ikhanka
Zulu: Mpungutshe, Khanka
Venda: Phungubwe
Tswana: Phokojwe
Siswati: Mpungutje
Sotho: Phokobje

Honey Badger

Afrikaans: Ratel
Shona: Sere,Tsere
Ndebele: Ulinda
Siswati: Nsele
Tswana: Matswani
Venda: Tshiselele
Sotho: Magoge
Shangaan: Shidzizi
Yei: Umbuli

African Civit

Afrikaans: Siwetkat
Shona: Bvungo
Ndebele: Insimba
Venda: Dhatshatsha
Sotho: Tsaparangaka
Tswana: Tshipalore
Siswati: Lifungwe
Lozi: Nyangongo

Large spotted Genet

Afrikaans: Grootkolmuskelkat
Tswana: Tshipa
Siswati: Insimba
Lozi: Sipa
Yei: Unsiimba

Small-spotted Genet

Shona: Tsimba
Ndebele: Insimba
Shangaan: Nsimba
Tswana: Tshipa
Venda: Tsimba
Sotho: Tshipa
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Unread post by matthew » Tue Aug 08, 2006 4:08 pm

Slender Mongoose

Afrikaans: Rooimuishond
Shona: Hovo
Shangaan: Mangovo
Ndebele: Iwobo
Zulu: Chakide
Venda: Khohe
Tswana: Ramotsibodis
Siswati: Chakidze
Sotho: Kgano

Banded Mongoose

Afrikaans: Gebande Muishond
Shona: Sere,Tsere
Ndebele: Usikibhoror
Zulu: Buhala
Tswana: Letototo
Venda: Tshihoho
Shangaan: Nkala

Dwarf Mongoose

Afrikaans: Dwergmuishond
Ndebele: Iduha
Sotho: Motswitswane
Venda: Matswi


Afrikaans: Aardwolf
Shona: Mwena
Ndebele: Inthuhu
Zulu: Nehi
Venda: Tshivingwi
Tswana: Thukwi
Siswati: Ngci
Lozi: Mutosi

Spotted Hyaena

Afrikaans: Gevlekte Hiena
Shona: Bere
Shangaan: Mhisi
Tswana: Phiri
Venda: Phele
Zulu: Mpisi
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Unread post by matthew » Tue Aug 08, 2006 4:31 pm


Afrikaans: Leeu
Shona: Shumba
Shangaan: Nghala
Ndebele: Isilwane
Zulu: Ngonyama
Venda: Ndau
Tswana: Tau
Siswati: Ngwenyama
Sotho: Tau
Lozi: Tau
Yei: Undavu


Afrikaans: Luiperd
Zule, Ndebele, Siswati, Xhosa, Shangaan, Tsonga, Venda: Ngwe, Ingwe
Tswana: Nkwe
Lozi: Ngwe


Afrikaans: Jagluiperd
Ndebele, Zulu: Ihlosi, Hlosi
Shangaan: Khankankha
Venda: Dagaladzhie
Tswana, Sotho: Lengau
Siswati: Lihlosi
Lozi: Linau
Yei: Unqaba


Afrikaans: Rooikat
Xhosa: Nghawa
Shona: Hwang, Twana
Ndebele: Intwane
Zulu: Ndabushe
Venda: Thwani
Tswana: Thwane
Siswati: Indabushe
Lozi: Twani


Xhosa: Hlosi
Shona: Nzudzi
Ndebele: Inhlozi
Zulu: Ndlozi
Venda: Didingwe
Tswana: Tadi
Siswati: Indloti
Lozi: Nwela
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Unread post by matthew » Tue Aug 08, 2006 5:01 pm

African wild cat

Afrikaans: Vaalbokat
Shangaan: Mphaha
Ndebele: Igola
Zulu: Mpaka
Venda: Phaha
Tswana: Phage
Xhosa: Ngada
Siswati: Imbodla
Sotho: Tsetse
Lozi: Sinono
Yei: Uqhumu


Afrikaans: Erdvark
Zulu: Sambane
Ndebele: Isambane
Shangaan: Xombana
Venda: Thagalu
Tswana: Thakadu
Siswati: Sambane
Sotho: Thakadu
Lozi: Takalo
Yei: Ungengu


Zulu, Siswati, Xhosa: Ndhlovu
Shangaan: Ndlopfu
Sotho: Tlou
Venda: Ndou
Lozi: Tou
Yei: Unjovo

Rock Dassie

Afrikaans: Klipdassie
Zulu, Xhosa, Siswati, Shangaan: Mbili
Ndebele: Imbila
Sotho: Pela
Venda: Mbila
Tswana: Pela

Black Rhinoceros

Afrikaans: Swartrenoster
Xhosa: Mkhohombe
Shona: Chipenbere
Zulu: uBhejane
Venda: Thema
Tswana: Tshukudu
Lozi: Sukulu
Sotho: Makgale

White Rhinoceros

Afrikaans: Witrenoster
Shona: Chipenbere
Zulu: Mkhombe
Venda: Tshuguly
Tswana: Tshukudu
Sotho: Tshukudu
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Unread post by matthew » Thu Aug 10, 2006 5:01 pm

Burchell’s Zebra

Afrikaans: Bontsebra
Shangaan: Tsonga
Ndebele: Idube
Zulu, Xhosa: Dube
Tswana, Sotho: Pise ya naga
Siswati: Lidvubu
Lozi: Pizi
Yei: Umbiyi


Afrikaans: Bosvark
Zulu: Ngulube
Ndebele: Ngulugunda
Shangaan: Khumba
Venda: Nguluvhe
Tswana: Kolobe ya naga
Siswati: Ingulnbe ye siganga
Sotho: Kolobe
Lozi: Ngili
Yei: Unkutula


Afrikaans: Vlakvark
Zulu: Ndlovudalana
Ndebele: Ngulube
Shangaan: Ngulube
Venda: Phangwa
Tswana: Kolobe
Siswati: Budzayikatana
Sotho: Kolobe
Lozi: Kolobe
Yei: Ungili


Afrikaans: Seekoei
Zulu, Xhosa, Siswati: Mvubu
Shangaan, Tsonga: Mpfubu
Ndebele: Imvubu
Sotho, Tswana: Kubu
Venda: Mvuvu
Shona: Mvuu
Lozi: Kubu
Yei: Unvuva


Afrikaans: Kameelperd
Shangaan: Nthutlwa
Ndebele: Htundla
Zulu: Ndhulamithi
Venda: Thuda
Tswana: Thutlwa
Lozi: Tutwa
Sotho: Unveweshe

Sharpe’s Grysbok

Afrikaans: Sharpe se Grysbok
Shona: Himba
Ndebele: Isanempa
Shangaan: Pitsipitsi
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Unread post by matthew » Thu Aug 10, 2006 5:18 pm


Afrikaans: Klipspringer
Shangaan: Ngululu
Ndebele: Igogo
Sotho: Kome
Shona: Ngururu
Tswana: Kololo
Siswati: Ligoka

Common Duiker

Afrikaans: Duiker
Zulu, Xhisa, Siswati: Mpunzi
Ndebele: Impunzi
Shangaan: Mhuti
Venda: Nfsa
Tswana: Phuti
Shona: Mhembwe
Sotho: Phuthi
Lozi: Puti
Yei: Unsa


Afrikaans: Steenbok
Zulu: Qhina
Ndebele: Ingina
Shangaan: Shipene
Venda: Phuluvhulu
Siswati: Lingcina
Sotho: Thiane
Lozi: Kabu
Yei: Ughwi
Tswana: Phuduhudu
Shona: Mhene
Xhosa: Shabanga


Afrikaans: Rietbok
Xhosa: Ntlangu
Zulu: Nxala
Shangaan: Nhlangu
Ndebele: Umziki
Tswana: Sebugatla
Sotho: Lekwena
Venda: Dahvu
Shona: Bimha
Lozi: Mutpobo
Yei: Unvwi


Afrikaans: Rooibok
Shangaan: Mhala
Ndebele, Zulu, Siswati: Mpala
Venda, Sotho, Tswana: Phala
Lozi: Pala
Yei: Umpala

Blue Wildebeest

Afrikaans: Blouwildebees
Ndebele, Zulu, Xhosa: Nkhonhoni
Shangaan: Hongonyi
Siswati: Ngongoni
Shona: Ngongoni
Sotho: Kgokong
Tswana: Kgokong
Venda: Khongoini
Lozi: Kokonu
Yei: Unzonzo
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Unread post by matthew » Fri Aug 11, 2006 5:10 pm


Afrikaans: Basterhartbees
Shangaan: Nondo
Tswana: Tshesebe
Ndebele: Inkolomi
Sotho: Tshentshebe
Shona: Nondo
Siswati: Mzansi
Yei: Unsuru
Lozi: Sebesebe


Afrikaans: Swartwitpens
Zulu: Mpalampale
Shangaan: Mhalamhala
Tswana: Kwalata
Sotho: Phalafala
Ndebele: Ngwaladi
Venda: Phalafala
Shona: Mharapara
Siswati: Imphalampala
Lozi: Kwalata


Afrikaans: Bastergemsbok
Ndebele: Ithaka
Shangaan: Ndakadsi
Venda: Thavha-nda-lila
Siswati: Litagaezi
Sotho: Hlaba-ka-lela
Lozi: Kwalata
Tswana: Kunkuru
Shona: Ndunguza


Afrikaans: Waterbok
Zulu, Siswati: Phiva
Shangaan: Mhitlwa
Ndebele: Isidumuka
Tswana: Pitlhwa
Sotho: Phitlwa
Venda: Phidwa
Shona: Dhumukwa
Lozi: Ngunguma


Afrikaans: Bosbok
Shangaan: Mbvala
Ndebele, Zulu, Siswati: Imbabala
Sotho: Tshoso
Shona: Dsoma
Xhosa: Imbabala
Venda: Mbavhala
Tswana: Serolobotlhoko
Lozi: Mbabala
Yei: Ungulungu


Afrikaans: Njala
Ndebele, Zulu, Shangaan, Venda: Inyala
Shona: Nyara
Siswati: Litagayezi


Afrikaans: Koedoe
Zulu: Mgankla
Xhosa: Qudu
Siswati: Shongololo
Shangaan: Hlongo
Sotho, Venda, Tswana: Tholo
Shona: Nhoro
Ndebele: Ibhalabhala
Lozi: Tolo
Yei: Unzwa


Afrikaans: Eland
Zulu, Xhosa: Mpofu
Shangaan: Mhofu
Sotho: Phohu
Venda: Phofu
Shona: Mhofu
Tswana: Phofu
Mdebele: Impofu
Siswati: Impophi
Lozi: Pofu
Yei: Unshefu


Afrikaans: Buffel
Zulu, Xhosa: Nyathi
Siswati: Inyatsi
Sotho: Nare
Venda: Nyati
Shangaan: Nyari
Tswana: Nari
Shona: Nyati
Ndebele: Inyathi
Lozi: Nali
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Unread post by Sawubona » Thu Apr 03, 2008 9:49 am


Buffalo is indeed "Inyati"

I have little knowledge of black language, excuse spelling.

Lion = Tau
Elephant = Tlou
Baboon = Ntwene
Monkey = Kgabo
Kudu = Tholo

I think this is more the Limpopo peoples language.

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