5 | Malayalees: The people with two first names, and other ways to spot us


For one, you will find us EVERYWHERE. You think there are Chinese people everywhere? Sure, but there’s at least one of us, too. We’re delightful, smart, lazy, but efficient, and able to adapt like no other. We can effortlessly merge into the fabric of any country or community. Look at the ‘Gulf‘, for example. Our integration has been so seamless, we basically make up the majority population of the region (don’t fact-check me, just take my word for it). I mean, who doesn’t have a relative in the Gulf? It’s basically mini-Kerala. Have you ever been on a flight to Dubai/Doha/Abu Dhabi? Like, 80% of the Indians on it are more than likely to be Malayalee – careful what you talk about in those airports, too. Always a smile, or another typically Mallu non-greeting*, followed by the best conversation starter/greeting/pick-up line (??): ‘Naatil evidya?’

One of the easiest tell-tale signs? Our names. If it’s not two first names, eg. Jeff Peter, Amy John, James Alex, Leela Tom (yes, Tom, not Thomas, not Thompson), then it’s the second favourite play on names by mid-80s/90s Mallu parents – combining the dad’s name and the mom’s name, regardless of how ridiculous the name (might) sound when their children grow up into adults.  So, next up, naturally, is the addition of ‘-Kutty‘ to everyone’s name, or the name ‘Baby‘, or the penultimate cutie-patootie name for a 54 year old man/woman, “Babykutty“. Most of these names can be made unisex, too – after all, what’s in a name, right? And the cardinal rule of Mallu Sibling Names – they have to rhyme (Lintu, Mintu, Chintu), or if your first name is Orange, then your sibling’s name also needs to start with an ‘O’, or the best, they rhyme AND start with the same letter. And everyone knows that Abraham Simon Paul is actually Appukuttan and Mary Elizabeth Joseph is really Tinkumol. In fact, Malayalee names are so typical/obvious, I literally went onto Twitter and Instagram and just searched for Mallu users with the following names: Cherian, Kurian, Varghese, Nair, Panicker, -parambil.

Let’s be kinder, my generation.

As our first name choices might suggest, you could probably get away with assuming that if an Indian is Christian, they are quite likely to be Malayalee. I know, I know, we’re Indian. How on Earth could we possibly be Christian, let alone Catholic? Oh, I don’t know, the world’s religious historians-on-a-stick, maybe Google a little old mass converter by the name of St Thomas?

Of course, who can forget all of our many career options: doctor and engineer. If you can’t be one, marry one! (Joooooooooooooooooooookes….ish)

Um, Uncles’ mustaches. Is your dad even Mallu if he doesn’t have a ‘stache? Movember, every month, am I right?

Speaking of uncles, how about our love affair with alcohol…? This one is debatable, but I’d win. Not to trivialise alcoholism, but it’s a Mallu thing. No occasion is bereft of alcohol.
Birthday? Booze. International flight? Booze. After church party? (I know………) Onam? Randu peg adichaalo? But it’s not just us NRI’s. Have you seen the queues for alcohol in Kerala?

Also, in terms of dress (which is a unisex term haha), uncles generally always wear chinos too high paired with a slightly oversized short-sleeved collared shirt, and the younger chettans do this thing with their shirt sleeve where they lazily roll it to a point halfway between the elbow and wrist. Aunties are slowly moving into the 80s/90s western work wardrobe for casualwear, but can usually be found in a churidhar or sari.

Then there is our inexplicable obsession with gold, especially during weddings (where you wear your family’s worth around your neck), which may or may not be similar to the amount you wear just to go to church on Sunday.

Then, who can write a list on typical Malayalee traits without mentioning our hair! Our ‘theeneecha koodu‘ hair, simply, that steel-woolly textured curly hair specifically found on the heads of Malayalees! Just Google Thrissur-kaari Anupama Parameswaram (Mary from the movie Premam) for an example of what I mean. Everyone knows what I am talking about – and almost everyone I know with such hair hates it. I really don’t know why – I think it looks wonderful and uniquely Mallu, and who doesn’t love not needing hair bands? I literally buy bulk packs, and lose all of them within a week. But, I digress. Lose the hair straightener, ladies, and work it!

Another easy one: you smell coconut. Coconut in our hair, on our skin, in our food, in our drink. Can you do it with something else? We can do it with Coconut.

We don’t all speak fast, but our minds work so fast (don’t we all just love to remind everyone about how literate Kerala is) so our delivery units need to try keep up! I mean, Malayalam is a beautiful and super flowy language, that doesn’t really sound right unless it’s said fast. So, naturally, we would keep the pace when we switch to English, right? Try keep up, Susan.

On the negative side, being a malayalee is sometimes synonymous with being a para. Do you know the story about the Kerala crabs? Apparently, you can carry an open crate full of Kerala crabs without worrying about them escaping because no one crab will allow another to climb up/escape. Hyeeeectic, hey? In the same breath, we have insane levels of bromance with other Mallus. We are aaalllll friends, regardless of whether I like you or not.

And finally, one of our best qualities, is the ability to laugh at ourselves. We are no doubt one of the friendliest, smartest and generalist products of India. What have you noticed about Mallus/What makes you proud to be one? Please do share in the comments! MMx

*Social graces are generally absent in our society. We have one word to conquer them all: ‘Sheri

3 thoughts on “5 | Malayalees: The people with two first names, and other ways to spot us

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