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”). “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”.
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. 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). 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). At that time, one of three states in the region was calledCheralam in Classical Tamil: Chera and Kera are variants of the same word. The Graeco-Roman trade map Periplus Maris Erythraei refers to this Keralaputra asCelobotra