I don’t know if Malayalees are unique in their choice of names for adults and children.

When I lived in Kenya in the fifties and early sixties, there were relatively few families from Kerala and everyone knew each other within the community. But even within the relatively small community, there were some interesting variations on names. For example, my father was referred to as Allidina Joseph to differentiate him from another individual with the same name who was called Agakhan Joseph – my father worked at Allidina Visram High School and the other Joseph worked at the Agakhan School. There were two people called Thomas – and to differentiate between them one was called Aluminium Thomas and the other was Agakhan Thomas. The former worked at the Kenya Aluminium Company and the other worked at the Agakhan School. Then we had a Business George — because he operated a private business!

My late cousin, KC Alexander, was called Baby by family and Mallu friends – he was likely given that nickname when he was a baby and it stuck. It was perfectly normal to us but a source of amusement to British friends and associates with whom he shared this information! His wife’s nick-name was Dedi – the origin of which was a function of her father’s religious conviction. When she was born, her father was reading the bible and saw the word “dedicated”. He used the first four letters of that word and she became “Dedi”!

My parents were really quite run of the mill when it came to naming their children: other than my younger sister, Fifi, all the other children have fairly mundane names. Even Fifi’s rather more exotic name was because the mid-wife who delivered her in Mombasa was from the Seychelles – a Mrs Hooker who spoke French and thought she was the cutest baby. She would refer to her as “ma fifi” constantly ie “my fifi”. There are several possible explanations for that name and two are quite credible. Apparently Fifi is interchangeable with Josephine in French – and give that our last name is “Joseph”, that seems like one possible explanation. It is also used in French to mean “little girl” … so that could be the reason.

But my parents were not typical of Syrian Christian Mallu parents who can be remarkably creative when it comes to naming their offspring as will be evident below………..

Also, I don’t know if this is unique to Kerala or whether it happens in other parts of India but private bus owners frequently express their pride in their children by naming their buses with the names of their offspring. One sees this frequently in Kerala as shown in the image on the right.

Of course, if there are several children and there is ownership of only one bus, parents have to get creative and they do something like the bus shown below and display the names of multiple children. You’ll note that “Rakesh” – a male name – enjoys greater prominence compared to “Asha” and “Kiran” who are female! Now these names are rather not commonly used in Kerala and seem to be more suggestive of names used in North India … in which case, this custom of prominently displaying the names of children on a privately owned bus seems to extend beyond Kerala!


A good explanation I have seen for the names that Malaylees name their children appears below. I’d love to take credit for authoring it but quite honestly it has been been making the rounds both in emails and also appears on several websites. It is a light-hearted explanation for the origins for some of the unusual names one comes across and despite the humor, there is a semblance of truth to it. For non-Mallus who have wondered about the origins of some of the names associated with Mallus, you are now fully in the know!

“It has been a well kept secret for eons, shrouded in mystery and mazes of deceit, but finally Itty Boben Jacob Elias Kuruvilla from Pazhookaville, near Thelmasherry, Kerala has consented to let us publish this classified Mallu formula, on the naming of Mallu christian kids.

1. Select a combination of both the mother and fathers names. Eg: Suresh and Sharon = Susha or Joseph and Beena = Jobi.

2. The addition of a ‘mon’ (meaning son) or ‘mol’ (meaning daughter) is optional. eg: Sushamol, Jobison

3. To attach a modern anglicised feel to the names, the mol or mon can be replaced with boy or girl. eg: Jobiboy, Sushagirl.

4. For the politically correct Malayalee family, mol and mon can be replaced by the universal ‘kutty’(child), which can be used for both boys and
girls! Eg: Jokutty, Susikutty

Even parents having combination names can still give their children suitable names eg: Libi and Jobi = Lijo However, in the scenario where the parents already have combination names that cannot form more comprehensible child names. Eg: Itty and Amukutty, would produce only Itam (which doesn’t even sound like a name) or Amit (which is like Northie and stuff !!!), then

a. Use an English word like Baby, Merry, Titty, Pearly, Smiley, Anarchy, etc.

b. Use a combination of two English names that you think sound cool (but never cool enough) like Meredith + Gina = Megi, or Sharon + Darlene
= Sharlene

c. Use a name from the Bible (and not Nebuchadnezzar! Use one that even Velliammachi can pronounce) like Jacob, Sam, John, Joseph, Mathew, or Jijo

d. Use a name that sounds like a cuss word but isn’t. Eg: Boben, Prussy, Shagi, Justin Timberlake etc.

Note: The use of the letter ‘j’ is useful in the naming of sibling where names that sound alike are a novelty. Eg: Ajji, Sajji, Majji, Bhajji and
Nimajji, or Sijo, Lijo, Jijo, Anjo, Panjo, Banjo

It is the reason why Mallus call their children names like Siju, Tissy, Nebu, Tincy, Vincy, Nevin, Rojan, Liju, Jilu, Jesmi, Gincy, Vincy, Shanu, Sissy, Shincy, Linzy, Ancy, Subi, Jincy, Joby, Shibu, Beven, Jency, Princy, Nimmy, Regi, Juby, Binsu, Sanu, Juby, Ciby, Annsy………well, you get the general idea of how this works.

But as Shakespeare said, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.

And so it is with Mallu names!

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4 Responses to “What’s in a name ……..well, a Mallu name?”

  1. Vinod says:

    Hilarious and so very true!

  2. joe says:

    The permutations and combinations are multiple and they will not run out of names. I know of a guy named Shito (Shiny+Tomy)
    Well written :-)

  3. Anonymous says:

    Mallu

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