In 1951, the party adopted the name 'Northern Rhodesian African National Congress' under the presidency of Harry Nkumbula. It was linked to the African National Congress in South Africa. In 1953 Kenneth Kaunda became the general secretary of the organization.
In 1958 the party was divided on whether to participate in the legislative elections, in which only a minority of the black population was allowed to vote. The more radical Kaunda broke away, and formed the Zambian African National Congress, which was banned in 1959. After independence in 1964, the NRANC itself adopted the name Zambian African National Congress.