Leaving behind the British influence
WHAT’S in a name or in its spelling? Place names in India are usually in local languages. However, the impact of British rule in India could be clearly seen in many of them.
In the early years after Independence, attempts were made to return to the traditional name and spelling.
The first European spelling of Mylapoor was perhaps by Ptolemy who mentioned the great port of Mylarphon. The second perhaps was Luiz Vaz de Camoens, widely considered Portugal’s greatest poet, who wrote, in the 16th century, of Mylapore in his poem The Lusiads:
Here rose the potent city, Meliapore Named, in olden time rich, vast and grand...
Of course, if we had wanted a real name change Mylai as mentioned in the 7th century Devaram or 15th century Thirupugal would have been fine.
In Tamil, most of the place names have some common suffixes attached to them For instance, we come across:
•Pakkam – (which means) near the sea
•Kudi – a large farm settlement
•Pattanam – a large commercial area
•Nallur / Bramhadeyam / Mangalam – royal tax-free gifts
•Cheri – a prosperous town (and not slum)
•Palayam – a fortified settlement
•Thurai – a port
‘Chinna thari pettai’ was a weavers’ town, perhaps the first export processing zone in this part of the world. Chinthatripet is a corruption of that original name.
Saidapet was obviously ‘Syed Khan Pettah’ named after the Arcot noble who killed Raja Desingu of Senji. Now, changing it to its original name would have caused a lot of heartburn.Does how we spell a corrupted name actually matter?
A host of place names in East India company records, as the English spelt them first, shows that they don’t correspond to the place names last week or after the change. For instance, Kodambakkam starts with a Q.
•Perya Mettoo: Periamet
There are reverse instances too, like Collet’s Pet (Kaladi pet now) named by the British or Chromepet that came from a leather company’s nomenclature.
—The writer is a historian and author