Where did the baby name Tandeka come from in 1967?

Tandeka and Zoleka Tukutese at 6 months old.
Tandeka and Zoleka Tukutese

The baby name Tandeka was a one-hit wonder in the U.S. baby name data in 1967:

  • 1969: unlisted
  • 1968: unlisted
  • 1967: 7 baby girls named Tandeka [debut]
  • 1966: unlisted
  • 1965: unlisted

Where did it come from?

A quintuplet!

Tandeka was the name of one of the famous Tukutese quintuplets born to Xhosa parents Nogesi Gquzulu (mom) and Tafeni Tukutese (dad) in South Africa in February of 1966.

The Tukutese quintuplets (b. 1966)
The Tukutese quintuplets

U.S. newspapers and periodicals spelled (and defined) the quints’ names in various ways…

  1. Kululekile or Kolekile (boy), “happy” or “happiness” (5 lbs., 2 oz.)
  2. Tembekile (boy), “trusted” (4 lbs. 12 oz.)
  3. Mbambile (boy), “devoted” or “I’ve got it” or “he’s got it” (4 lbs. 12 oz.)
  4. Zoleka (girl), “serenity” (4 lbs. 12 oz.)
  5. Tandeka (girl), “beloved” or “loved one” (4 lbs. 2 oz.)

And, interestingly, the name of quint #3 was later changed. The quints’ mother had “defied an age-old tribal custom” by choosing the names herself while at the hospital. According to tradition, it was “the prerogative of the grandfather or great grandfather to name children.”

One of the baby boys was named Mbambile, meaning “He’s Got It” by the mother, but he had his name changed by his great grandfather, 89-year-old Mr. Gqusungu Zenzile, who came from the Transkei to see his great grandchildren. Mr. Zenzile changed his name to Gilindoda, meaning “Giant.”

This change was never mentioned by the U.S. media, though. Even when Ebony magazine published an article about the quints in December of 1966 — an extra round of exposure that no doubt contributed to Tandeka appearing in the SSA data in 1967 — quint #3 was still being called Mbambile.

What are your thoughts on the name Tandeka?

P.S. These days, the names Tandeka and Tembekile are more commonly rendered “Thandeka” and “Thembekile.” In Xhosa, th is pronounced like t, but with more aspiration.


Images: Clippings from Ebony magazine (Dec. 1966)

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