The name Nahua is derived from the Nahuatl word-root nāhua- [ˈnaːwa-], which generally means "audible, intelligible, clear" with different derivations including "language" (hence nāhuat(i) [ˈnaːwat(i)] "to speak clearly" and nāhuatl [ˈnaːwat͡ɬ] both "something that makes an agreeble sound" and "someone who speaks well or speak one's own language"). It was used in contrast with popoloca [popoˈloka], "to speak unintelligibly" or "speak a foreign language". Another, related term is Nāhuatlācatl [naːwaˈt͡ɬaːkat͡ɬ] (singular) or Nāhuatlācah [naːwaˈt͡ɬaːkaʔ] (plural) literally "Nahuatl-speaking people".
The Nahuas are also sometimes referred to as Aztecs. Using this term for the Nahuas has generally fallen out of favor in scholarship, though it is still used for the Aztec Empire. They have also been called Mēxihcatl [meːˈʃiʔkat͡ɬ] (singular), Mēxihcah [meːˈʃiʔkaʔ] (plural) or in Spanish Mexicano(s) [mexiˈkano(s)] "Mexicans", after the Mexica, the Nahua tribe which founded and predominated in the Aztec empire.