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Nama (Khoekhoegowab)


Nama is the cultural name for the Khoekhoe (Khoekhoegowab) language.  Although this language was originally known as Hottentot, this name is deemed discriminatory and is no longer used.  Nama is loosely categorised as Khoisan, as it is considered the most prevalent non-Bantu language that uses “click” sounds.

Nama is descended from the Central or Khoe group of the Khoesan language family, and is spoken by the Nama, Damara, and Haillom tribes of Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa.  Statistics regarding the numbers of first and second language speakers are scarce.  This may be due to the fact that the former South African government did not recognise Nama as a language or a people.  Nevertheless, a 2011 investigation estimates that there may be as many as 250,000 native Khoekhoe speakers.


Khoekhoe is spoken across a vast geographical region with few inhabitants, resulting in clusters of secluded speakers.  This may account for the existence of 6 different Nama vernaculars, as identified by the Ethnologue.  These dialects are Bondelswarts-Nama (otherwise known as Bondelswarts), Sesfontein Dama (or Sesfontein Damara), Namidama, Central Dama (Central Damara), Central Nama (Nama), and Topnaar-Nama (or simply, Topnaar). 

Nama is a very old language, closely linked to other tongues from the same language family, such as Naro and Khwedam.  Despite this close relationship, Khoekhoegowab is completely dissimilar and does not share a common clarity with these dialects.  Nama terminology tends to reveal their lifestyle, with their lexicon overflowing with terms concerning hunting, animals, plants, and different varieties of topography. 

As a national language in Namibia, Nama is used for all levels of education and in municipal government.  In addition, public broadcasting corporations in Namibia and South Africa record and transmit Khoekhoe radio programmes. 

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