The Difference Between Mohandas & Mahatma Gandhi

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Mahatma Gandhi in 1909. -Image PD by Wikimedia Commons
Mohandas K. Gandhi in 1909.

You’ve noticed it for years, but never understood why. What’s the difference between Mohandas and Mahatma Gandhi? It’s all very simple.

What’s in a Name? Mohandas Gandhi

Both Mohandas and Mahatma Gandhi refer to the very same person. Mohandas is a name. Mahatma is a title.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948) was the man who led India to independence from Britain. In the process, the land was divided in two: Muslim Pakistan, with the remainder becoming the new Hindu-dominated India.

What’s in a Title? Mahatma Gandhi

He employed peaceful means to accomplish this end, and so came to be revered among the people. The reverence is reflected in the title Mahatma, which is defined as a revered person or sage who, some suggest possesses supernatural powers.

Note: The use of titles as if they were names should not be surprising. Some illustrative examples are Jesus Christ, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Candace – Queen of Ethiopia.

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9 thoughts on “The Difference Between Mohandas & Mahatma Gandhi

  • Chris Koontz

    Caesar is an example of a name becoming a title. Caesar was actually a family name. It was later applied to all Emperors of Rome as they were all technically descended from Augustus Caesar.

    it’s the same with Ghengis Khan. That was his name. Khan was later used by Mongolians and other peoples to reference a leader of great power.

    And finally Candace was never used as a name, that’s just a misunderstanding of Translation from Greek to English. Candace is the Latinization of Kandake, the Greciation of a Kush term meaning Queen. The reference in the Bible just didn’t give her name. No one ever called any queen of Ethiopia by the name Candace.

    It’s more accurate to compare the usage as one would the usage of the word Pope. We rarely refer to Pope’s by their original given names. They choose a name, and ever after, even after they die, they are referred to as Pope So-and-So. It becomes, in essence, their name.

    • Hi, Guy… I think you’ve misunderstood my intent. I was saying the very same thing you are saying. I was pointing out that some people use a title as a name, when it is just that — a title. For instance, Rabshakeh. That was a title. Rabsaris. A title. Tartan. Again, a title. All were Assyrian military officials. Jesus was not Mr. Christ, but the Christ.

      As an aside, apparently not all are convinced Khan ever was actually a name. See, for instance, Wikipedia (I know, I know, not a primary reference).

    • Jack Keefe

      I think they must mean Augustus Caesar. Augustus was a title given by the Senate, his real name being Octavius, and then Julius Caesar Octavianus after his adoption. But to history he is known as Augustus.

  • Ceyhan

    A correction to Chris’ thoughts. The first written record of the use of Khan as a title meaning sovereign was almost 1,000 before the Mongol Empire by the Xianbei people and was a widespread title amongst Mongols and Turks long before the time of Genghis Khan, who was born with the name Temüjin.

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