KOCHI: The famous port city known as the queen of the Arabian Sea is a tourist hotspot for both national and international travellers. But when we went around town asking historians about how Kochi got its two-syllable name, we realised the city was not always this popular.
According to P Prakash, president of Changampuzha Samskarika Kendram, the Kochi area was a small fishing village till the fourteenth century. “There was no port in the city then. Kodungallur used to be the main port in central Kerala. However, a huge flood destroyed the Kodungallur port in 1341. When the water receded, a small port was formed in the village now known as Kochi. People named it ‘kochu azhi’, which was later shortened to Kochi,” he says.
But then, the first rule of hearsay is there could be more than one of it. Prakash, however, says this story is the most plausible one. Another narrative points to the Chinese visits. In the early 15th century, Chinese traveller and translator Ma Huan visited Kochi as part of his grand voyage. It was he who first mentioned the name Kochi in one of his books. Ever since many international travellers have mentioned the port city in various records. Interestingly, all this happened after the flood of 1341.
The Chinese visited the state from the 14th century. When the port was formed, they started camping in Kochi. “That’s how Chinese nets came to the city,” says Johann Binny Kuruvilla, founder of Kochi Heritage Project. “The Chinese travelled with the monsoon wind and settled down at the small fishing village. Some suggest it’s the Chinese influence that fetched the city its name, especially the ‘chi’ in Kochi,” Johann says.
If you dig deeper, you are bound to find many more stories, including one connected to ‘Goshree’, which translates to ‘a place with the beauty of many cows’. The Konkani community in Mattancherry had so many cows, and this was probably how the name came about. Another story talks about a place on the border of Kochi kingdom called Madabhumi. “This could be where the name Goshree originated, later becoming Kochi,” says Prakash.
What’s in a name
Introducing: Weekly column on the history of place names in the city. Got any whacky suggestions? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org