The Saint Thomas Christians of Kerala, in south-west India, have unique naming conventions. Also known as Syrian Malabar Nasranis, they trace their origins to the evangelistic activity of Thomas the Apostle in the 1st century. Their naming conventions differ from both members of other religions in India and Christians in other regions.
Saint Thomas Christian names are biblical in origin and passed on from one generation to the next. Hence male names are usually patronymic and female names are usually matronymic. That is, usually a person's name will include the names of their parents and grandparents, or that of a close blood relative. These names will not include the names of saints, other religious figures, political leaders or foreign names[vague]. Family names are also included[vague]. Unlike Indian Christians of other denominations, foreign[vague] family names are absolutely irrelevant for Saint Thomas Christians as they embraced Christianity long before the arrival of European missionaries in India. So a Nasrani can easily be identified by name, from among other Christians. Even today, this pattern of giving name is visible in almost all Syrian Christian denominations.
Before the arrival of the Portuguese in May 1498, Saint Thomas Christians of Kerala were known to belong to the Margam, a word when translated is ‘The Way’.
In 1599, Catholic Archbishop Alexio-de-Menezes called a synod at Udayamperoor, in which Christians in and near the kingdom of Cochin attended. Here he decreed that St. Thomas Christians should abandon their ancient naming conventions. They were specifically told not to use the name Easow because it was holy. But, the Saint Thomas Christians ignored this command and had continued with their ancient customs. Even today they do follow this method of naming. Even the Nasranis that did convert to Catholicism (Syrian Catholics) still use the "old margam" names. The Latin names are shunned
During the 20th century some names were created by joining two or more syllables. For example, Abey (AB), Aji (AG), Bibi (BB), Biji (BG), Jessy (JC) and so on. Today, several Syrian Christians name their children by Indian names like Deepak, Rahul, Neethu, Asha etc. But by the 21st century more biblical names began to reappear. Thus names like, Isaac, Joshua, David, Saul, Ezekiel, Timothy, appeared on the scene. Generally they still follow the system detailed below.
Standard form of a name
A name will include the baptismal name (generally the person is known by that name ) and the name of the father. The practice of appending the first name of father to the child's name instead of family name is also followed by Hindus of South India. Examples are given below.
Their names traditionally have a threefold structure.
- Family or house name – Father’s name – Baptismal name
The first two are usually abbreviated to initials.
Another form is that the name will include the baptismal name (generally the person is called by that name) and the name of his father. The practice of appending the first name of father to the child's name instead of family name is also followed by Hindus of South India. Examples are given below.
As an example, the name, Thomas Mathew is similar to Shimon bar Jona. which means Shimon son of Jona. In the same way, Thomas Mathew means Thomas son of Mathew. Thomas Mathew is to be addressed as Thomas and not by his father's name.
- Here the correct spelling is ‘’’Mathew’’’ and not ‘’’Matthew’’’ as in English.
Another form of name is Nikhil Thomas Mathew where Nikhil is a name chosen by the parents and they usually call him by that name, Thomas is the biblical and baptismal name and Mathew is his father's name.
Their bishop receives a new name on consecration. This also has a threefold structure.
As an example, the name, Rachel Mathew, means Rachel daughter of Mathew. After marriage, father's name is replaced by the husband's name. Rachel Mathew is to be addressed as Rachel and not by her father's name.
Another naming pattern is Anita Rachel Mathew where Anita is a formal given name chosen by the parents, Rachel is the biblical and baptismal name and Mathew is father's name. The given first names can be of any origin and many Syrian Christians give Indian names like Neethu, Deepa etc. to their children.
Use of initials
When initials are used, abbreviations of the family name or house name (name of the plot where the parents of the child live at the time of birth) and the father's name are given before the given name. For example, the name P.M. Thomas means Palakkappilly (family name), Mathew's (father's name) son, Thomas (given name). His sister's name will be P.M. Rachel.
When family name or house name need to be used, it comes first followed by the given name. As an example, T.M. Thomas is, THEETAKATTIL Thomas Mathew or THEETAKATTIL T.M.Thomas.
Hypocoristic (Pet names) are often used in a familiar and friendly manner in informal situations. In more formal situations, the given name is to be used instead. This alludes to the fact that using a person's pet name betokens familiarity. Pet names for Syrian Christians can be Hindu, Assyrian, Persian or Biblical in origin.
Order in giving names
Male names are patronymic.
- The first born is given the name of his paternal grandfather.
- The second born is given the name of his maternal grandfather.
- The third born is given the name of one of his uncles.
Female names are matronymic.
- The first born is given the name of her paternal grandmother.
- The second born is given the name of her maternal grandmother.
- The third born is given the name of one of her aunts.
The last name (father's name) changes with each generation. The family name would also change if members who move out of their consanguineal family homes with the changing ownership of property upon the death of the patriarch decides to adopt a new name. However, several families claim that they are ancient and their family names have remained unchanged for centuries.
The Syrian Christians who have migrated to Western nations tend to choose surnames which can either be the family name or the father's name will be used as a surname.
The mother tongue of Nasranis is Malayalam. So the names given in the following lists are in phonetic spelling. But the first one, given under ‘’Other names,’’ shows how that name is usually written in English. The two lists include the names of a few common names that are in use, and they are not comprehensive. To know the correct pronunciation of these names, see Malayalam script or Tiberian vocalization.
|Avraham||Abraham, Avraham, Averaan, Averaachen, Aviraa||Abraham|
|Eappen||Eapen, Esthappan, Punnoose, Uthup||Stephen|
|Eisow||Easow, Eyochan, Koshy||Jesus, Yeshua Joshua|
|Ittyavirah||Ittiyerah (= Itty-Avira)||Issac Abraham|
|Kuriakose||Kurien, Kora, Koruth, Kuruvila||Cyril, Coorilos|
|Mathai||Mathen, Mathoo, Mathew, Mathulla||Matthew|
|Peelipose||Philipose, Peely, Pothan, Poonan||Philip|
|Paulose||Paul, Poulose, Paulo, Pailey||Paul|
|Thoma||Thommi, Thommen, Thoman, Thommas, Mammen, Oommen, Thampan||Thomas|
|Geevarghese||Varghese, Varkey, Vareethu, Varughese, Geevarughese, Vakkachan||George, Georgios|
|Yohanan||Lonan, Lonappan, Ninan, Ulahannan||John|
|Ousep||Yawsep, Ouso, Iype, Outha, Ittoop, Kunjeppu||Joseph|
|Skariah||Karriah, Karriaan, Cherian, Kuncheria, Scaria||Zachariah|
|Tharakan||Tharian||Tariff or Tax Paid|
|Eliswa||Aaleyaamma, Aeley, Aeleykutty, Kunjaeley, Kochaeley, Elia, Elacha, Eliamma||Elizabeth|
|Accamma||Acca, Reba, Raca||Rebecca|
|Shoshanna||Shoshamma, Achamma, Shosha||Susan|
All the above names are sometimes expanded by adding koch, kunju, kutty and mol before or after each name.
Names are sometimes selected from the Malayalam language, and are used as pet names, like
- Chinnamma, Kunjamma, Pennamma, Ponnamma, Thankamma.
Table of kinship terms
|Family circle||Term of reference||Term of address|
|Grandfather||Valiyappachen, Appappan,Appachen||Valiyappachaa, Appappa, Appachaa|
|Grandmother||Ammachi,Valiyammachi, Ammama||Ammachi,Valiyammachi, Ammama|
|Father||Appachen, Appan, Chachan,Achchachan||Appachaa, Appa, Chacha,Achchacha|
|Mother||Ammachi, Amma||Ammachi, Amme|
|Uncle||Ammachan, Valyappan,Uppapan, Cheriyappan, Perappan||Uppapan, Valyappa, Cheriyappa, Perappa|
|Aunt||Ammayi, Valiyammai, Kochammai||Ammayi, cheriamme, Kunjamma|
|Eldest brother||Valiyachayan, Achayan, Chetettan||Valiyachayaa, Achayaa, Chettetta, Achaachen, Chaachen|
|Elder brother||(name) Achayan, Chettan, Valiya Aangala||(name) Achayaa, Chetta|
|Younger brother||Aniyan, Kochu Aangala||(name)|
|Eldest sister||Kochamma, Chechi, Valiya ammamma, Pengal||Chechi, Pengalei|
|Elder sister||(name) Chechi, Pengal||(name) Chechi, Pengalei|
|Infants (both sexes)||Kunju, Koch||Kunjei, Koché|
|Son||Makan, Mon||Makanei, Moné|
|Daughter||Makall, Mol||Mollei, Molé|
|Grand child||Perakutty, Kochumakal (pl)|
|Grand son||Kochumakan||Moné, KochuMoneé|
|Grand daughter||Kochumakal||Molé, KochuMolé|
- The Encyclopedia of Christianity, Volume 5 by Erwin Fahlbusch. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing - 2008. p. 285. ISBN 978-0-8028-2417-2.
- Luke 1:59-64.
- Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:22.
- Decrees of the Synod of AD 1599 July 20–27 (Malayalam), proceedings of the third meeting, Canon 9.
- Matthew 16:17
- N.M. Mathew. Malankara Marthoma Sabha Charitram, (History of the Marthoma Church), Volume III. 2008. Page 243.
- John Fenwick. ‘’The forgotten Bishops.’’ Georgias Press, ILC, NJ. U.S.A. 2009. ISBN 978-1-60724-619-0.