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The origin of the name is unclear; one suggestion of several is that it may have originated from a Portuguese phrase mãe de Deus, which means "mother of God", due to Portuguese influence on the port city, specifically referring to a Church of St. A Vijayanagar-era inscription dated to the year 1367 that mentions the port of Mādarasanpattanam, along with other small ports on the east coast was discovered in 2015 and it was theorised that the aforementioned port is the fishing port of Royapuram.It was derived from the name of a Telugu ruler Damarla Chennappa Nayakudu, father of Damarla Venkatapathy Nayak, a Nayak ruler who served as a general under Venkata III of the Vijayanagar Empire from whom the British acquired the town in 1639.
Chennai is nicknamed "The Detroit of India", with more than one-third of India's automobile industry being based in the city.
On 20 August 1639 Francis Day of the East India Company along with the Nayak of Kalahasti Damarla Chennappa Nayakudu, the Military administrator under Vijayanagar Emperor travelled to Chandragiri palace to meet the Vijayanagara King Peda Venkata Raya Post independence the fort housed the Tamil Nadu Assembly until the new Secretariat building was opened in 2010, but shortly afterwards it was again moved back to Fort St. By the 18th century, the British had conquered most of the region around Tamil Nadu and the northern modern–day states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, establishing the Madras Presidency with Madras as the capital.
With the advent of railways in India in the 19th century, the thriving urban centre was connected to other important cities such as Bombay and Calcutta, promoting increased communication and trade with the hinterland.
Stone age implements have been found near Pallavaram in Chennai.
According to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Pallavaram was a megalithic cultural establishment, and pre-historic communities resided in the settlement.The Otteri Nullah, an east–west stream, runs through north Chennai and meets the Buckingham Canal at Basin Bridge.