The name Kerala has an uncertain etymology. Keralam may stem from the Classical Tamil cherive-alam (“declivity of a hill or a mountain slope”) or chera alam (“Land of the Cheras”). Kerala may represent an imperfect Malayalam portmanteau fusing kera (“coconut palm tree”) and alam (“land” or “location”).[6] “Kerala” can also be derived from the word “Cheral” that refers to the oldest known dynasty of Kerala kings. In turn the word “Cheral” is derived from the Proto-Tamil-Malayalam word for “lake”.[7]

The earliest Sanskrit text to mention Kerala is the Aitareya Aranyaka of the Rigveda. It is also mentioned in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the two Hindu epics.[8] The word Kerala is first recorded (as Keralaputra means Cherathala makan or Cheraman) in a 3rd-century BCE rock inscription (Rock Edict 2) left by theMaurya emperor Ashoka (274–237 BCE).[9] The rock inscription refers to the local ruler as Keralaputra (Sanskrit for “son of Kerala”; or “son of Chera[s]”, this is contradictory to a popular theory that etymology derives “Kerala” from “Kera”; coconut tree in Malayalam).[10] At that time, one of three states in the region was calledCheralam in Classical Tamil: Chera and Kera are variants of the same word.[11] The Graeco-Roman trade map Periplus Maris Erythraei refers to this Keralaputra asCelobotra