What does Chennai mean? The question troubled Paris-based historian J B P More quite a lot. After painstaking research, he found the answer.
In his recently released book, titled ‘Origin and Foundation of Madras’, More says, “Chinapatnam and Chennapatnam were the other names for Madras used by Tamil and Telugu settlers in the area. Chennapatnam was ‘Tamilised’ as Chennai but the word didn’t mean anything in Tamil. It’s undoubtedly a Telugu word.”
Madraspatnam was derived from Medu Rasa Patnam, said More, who was in Chennai on Saturday to release his book. “When Nayak Venkatappa (a local chieftain) issued a grant (a portion of the area where subsequently Fort St George came up) in favour of the English in 1639, only Madraspatnam was mentioned in it. But during the 1640s, two new names for Madraspatnam or for the area inhabited by Tamils and Telugus around Fort St George seems to have come into existence. They were Chinapatnam and Chennapatnam,” he said.
Chinapatnam would have been the first name that would have come into existence in the Tamil-Telugu quarters to signify the Black Town of Madraspatnam. “‘Chenna’ in Telugu means fair and is not to be confused with the Tamil ‘Chinna’, which means small. In Tamil, ‘Chenna’ is meaningless,” said More.
He said in the Tamil Lexicon, the Tamil word ‘Cennai’ has been mentioned which would signify ‘a drum announcing religious procession of an idol’. More said there was no reference in documents and literature of the period to ‘Chennai’ as a drum.
“In the document of Beri Timanna, we find ‘Chenna’ written as ‘Chennai’. Thus Chenna Kesava Perumal became Chennai Kesava Perumal and Chennapatnam became Chennai Pattanam.
This seems to be purely the work of a translator of the 19th century who had preferred to Tamilise the Telugu word ‘Chenna’ into ‘Chennai’ so it sounded more Tamil,” said More. “The word ‘Chennai’ seems to have been born to designate Madras town. Its origin is Telugu. There is nothing Tamil in it,” he added.
Source: Times Of India