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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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[citation needed] 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’.[3]

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.[4] 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) 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.

Male names

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.[5] 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 Ryan Thomas Mathew where Ryan 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.

His baptismal name (Sometimes in Syriac form) – the title Mar (in East syriac form) or Mor ( in west Syriac form) – an Episcopal title ( a Biblical name or the name of a Christian father).[6][7]

Female names

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.

Other forms

When family name or house name need to be used, it comes first followed by the given name. As an example, A.M. Thomas is, Arimboor Mathew 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

For boys

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.

Usually, Christians in Kerala get baptized by a male or female relative, depending on the baby's gender. When baptized they are given a "church name" this church name is usually a typical Christian name. The parents of the baby will also give the child a regular name, these can be common Indian names. It is up to the parents if they want to use the child's church name as their official name, on their birth certificate. Let's say for example there is a boy and his church name is, "Luke" but his other name is "Sanju" (last name is Joseph) this child's parents can choose to either put his birth name, "Sanju" as his official name or, put his church name "Luke" as his official name. If they chose option 1, putting Sanju as his official name, he would officially be known as Sanju. When he gets married his family would take his church name Luke as their last name, if he chooses that. If his parents choose option 2, using his church name as his official name, then his friends and family would refer to him as Sanju but at a job interview or at school, people would call him Luke. His wife and family would get the last name Luke.

1.) Sanju Joseph

2.) Luke (Sanju) Joseph

For girls

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.

Most Christians in Kerala are baptized so they receive a church name and they have a regular name. It is up to the girl's parents to choose what they do. For example, if a girl's name was Riya, (last name is John) but her church name was Elizabeth, 1.) her parents can choose to put her first name as Riya and use Elizabeth unofficially. 2.) They can put Elizabeth as her official name but friends and family would refer to her as Riya, however at job interviews, school, etc. they would refer to her as Elizabeth. 3.) They can put Riya as her first name and use Elizabeth as her official middle name. Boys cannot do this because their middle name is their family name.

1.) Riya John

2.) Elizabeth (Riya) John

3.) Riya Elizabeth John


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.

Common names

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.

Male names

Name Other variations English
Anthony Antony, Anto, Antu, Anthu, Anthappan, Antappan Anthony
Avraham Abraham, Avraham, Averaan, Averaachen, Aviraa Abraham
Yakov Chacko, Chackochan, Yakob Jacob
Dhaveed Tharu, Tharian David
Chandy Idiculla Alexander
Devasianos Sebastian, Devasia, Devassy Sebastian
Daniel Daniel Daniel
Dominic Dom, Dominicus, Dummini Dominic
Esthappan Eapen, Punnoose, Uthup Stephen
Easow Eesho, Eyochan, Koshy Jesus, Yeshua Joshua
Isahak Itthak, Itty, Ittoop, Ittan Isaac
Ittyvira Ittiyerah (= Itty-Avira) Isaac Abraham
Kuriakose Kurien, Kora, Koruth, Kuruvila, Kuriappan Cyriaque, Cyriac
Lukose Lukachen, Lookose Luke
Markose Markochen Mark
Mathai Mathen, Mathoo, Mathukutty, Mathew, Mathulla Matthew
Philipose Peelipose, Paily, Peely, Pothan, Poonan Philip
Pathrose Pathappan, Peeri, Pappachan Peter
Paulose Paul, Poulose, Paulo, Pauley, Paily, Pailo, Pailan, Pali Paul
Shamuel Samuel, Sam Samuel
Porinju Pranji, Franky Francis
Thoma Thommi, Thommen, Thoman, Thomas, Mammen, Oommen, Thampan Thomas
Varkey Varghese, Geevarghese, Vareed/Vareedu, Vakkachan, Georgekutty George
Gregorios Gregorio,Girio Gregory
Skariah Skariahachen, Karriaan, Cherian, Kuncheria, Scaria Zachariah
Yohanan Lonan, Ninan, Ulahannan John
Ouseph Ousepachan, Ousep, Yawsep, Ouso, Iype, Outha, Ittoop, Kunjeppu Joseph
Mani Manicheuse, Manuel, Immanuel Emmanuel, Manicheuse
Tharakan Tharian Tharakan

Female names

Name Other variations English
Eliswa Aaleyaamma, Aeley, Aeleykutty, Kunjaeley, Kochaeley, Elia, Elacha, Lizyamma, Lizy,Eliamma Elizabeth
Accamma Acca, Reba, Raca Rebecca
Annamma Hanna, Anna Hannah
Mariam Mariamma Mary
Raahelamma Raahel Rachel
Thresyamma Tharama Teresa
Sara Saramma Sarah
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(in ISO 15919) Term of address(in ISO 15919
Great-grandfather Vallyavallyappaccan Vallyappaccā, Appāppā
Grandfather Vallyappaccan, Appāppan, Appaccan Vallyappaccā, Appāppā, Appaccā
Greatgrandmother Vallyavallyammacci Vallyammaccī, Ammāmē
Grandmother Ammacci, Vallyammacci , Ammāma Ammaccī, Vallyammaccī, Ammāmē
Father Appaccan, Appan, Cāccan Appaccā, Appā, Cāccā, Appachī
Mother Ammacci, Amma Ammē
Stepmother Raṇṭāṉamma Koccammē
Uncle Ammāccan, Vallyappan, Vallyappaccan, Uppāpan, Ceriyappan, Pērappan, Pēppan Uppāpa, Vallyappā, Vallyappaccā, Ceriyappā, Pērappā, Pēppā, Koccappā
Aunt Ammāyi, Vallyammāyi, Koccammāyi, Vallyammacci, Mēmma Ammāyī, ceriyammē, kuññammē, Koccammē, Vallyammachī, Mēmmē
Eldest brother Vallyaccāyan, Accāyan Vallyaccāyā, Accāyā, Accāccā, Chāccā, Cēttāyi
Elder brother (name) -ccāyan, Accāccan, Chettan, Vallyāngala, Chettayi (name)-ccāyā, Cēttā
Younger brother Aniyan, Koccu Āṅṅaḷa, Kunjumon (name)
Eldest sister Koccamma, Cēcci, Vallya ammāma, Peṅṅaḷ Cēccī, Peṅṅaḷē, Valyēccī
Elder sister (name) Cēcci, Peṅṅaḷ (name) Cēccī, Peṅṅaḷē
Younger sister Aṉiyatti (name), Kuññōḷē, Kuññēccī
Infants (both sexes) kuññă, Koccă kuññē, Koccē
Son Mōn Mōṉē
Daughter Mōḷ Mōḷē
Grand child Pērakutty, Koccumakkaḷ (pl)
Grand son Koccumōn Mōṉē, Koccumōṉē
Grand daughter Koccumōḷ Mōḷē, Koccumōḷē

See also


  1. ^ The Encyclopedia of Christianity, Volume 5 by Erwin Fahlbusch. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing - 2008. p. 285. ISBN 978-0-8028-2417-2.
  2. ^ Luke 1:59-64.
  3. ^ Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:22.
  4. ^ Decrees of the Synod of AD 1599 July 20–27 (Malayalam), proceedings of the third meeting, Canon 9.
  5. ^ Matthew 16:17
  6. ^ N.M. Mathew. Malankara Marthoma Sabha Charitram, (History of the Marthoma Church), Volume III. 2008. Page 243.
  7. ^ John Fenwick. ‘’The forgotten Bishops.’’ Georgias Press, ILC, NJ. U.S.A. 2009. ISBN 978-1-60724-619-0.