the Metro Manila City/Town Name Guide

There are questions that are not asked often but never fail to make heads scratch whenever they are asked. One of them being “how did this place get its name?”

Today, we will attempt to answer this question with regards to the origins behind the names of the cities and town (yes, as in one town) that comprise Metropolitan Manila. Some of the information that will be shared here may be of common knowledge to some, but it is still worth knowing. Who knows, you may be asked about in in a game show or something. 😉

Manila

Of course, we start off with the capital city itself, Manila, which is also probably one of the most well-known name origin story: that its name is descriptive in nature, derived from the words “may nila(d)” or there’s nila or nilad in that place. Nila/nilad refers to the flowering shrub which grew along the mangrove-rich shores of the bay near the river where the old Kingdom of Maynila was located.

the nila or nilad plant (courtesy of expatch.org)

Caloocan

Caloocan’s name came from the Tagalog words “lo-ok” which means “interior” and/or “sulok,” which means “in the corner.” As to reason behind such choice for a name, I can only surmise that perhaps in the olden times, when commercial activity was concentrated in the areas near Manila Bay and the Pasig River, the area known now as Caloocan was considered too far off from the city, not to mention geographically and metaphorically (at least during that time), it’s located at the end of Manila.

Las Piñas

Two stories have emerged about the origin of this city’s name. One story was that in the old days, pineapples were being shipped for sale this area by traders from southern Luzon, particularly Cavite and Batangas before being transported to other areas. Another story suggests its name actually was originally “Las Peñas” or the rocks as the area was known as a quarrying ground before.

One piece of documentation that may support the latter story is an inscription on a bell casted in 1822 for the building of the Las Piñas St. Joseph Church (AKA the home of the Bamboo Organ) which puts the name as “Las Peñas.” Still there would be no way of verifying if that is the case as few documents from that period or earlier about this city has survived.

Makati

Contrary to popular belief which has sprung so many jokes, Makati did not get its name from being itchy. Being itchy is actually “ma-ka-tí.” (stress on the lastsyllable) What is being referred here though is the “ká-ti” (stress on the first syllable) which refers to the ebbing tide in the area which lies along the shores of the Pasig River.

the Pasig River and Makati in the background (from rent-holiday-homes.com)

Malabon

Malabon’s name came for the Tagalog word for the bamboo shoot, “labong,” as bamboo was abundant in the area.

Another plant that was abundant there was the “tambo,” a species of grass from whose name was derived what was actually the city’s old name: Tambobong.

Mandaluyong

Mandaluyong is another city with different stories behind its name. One story says its name came from the Tagalog word “daluyong” which means “rolling waves”; the rolling waves pertain to either the waves of the Pasig River or its hilly topography which were seen as “wave-like.” Another story contends that its name came from the name of a tree known as “luyong” that was abundant in the area which is used for furniture.

There is also another story stating that its name is a portmanteau or a joint name which came from the names of Manda, daughter of a barangay chieftain, and Luyong, a maharlika or nobleman in honor of their love story that overcame the odds.

Marikina

Yet another city with different name origin stories to tell. One story tells that its name came from the Tagalog words “marikit na” or roughly translated as “it’s beautiful” which came about from a misunderstanding when a Spanish priest who was supervising the construction of a chapel there asked what would be its name and the Filipino laborer misunderstood the priest’s question as he thought how the chapel is looking.

Two other stories say its name was derived from names of real persons: one is a Fr. Mariquina who was renowned for his evangelical work in the town and another is a Maria Cuina who was renowned in the town for business acumen and philanthropy. There is also another tale that it was actually derived from a place in Spain called Markina or Marquina where either the Jesuit priests who founded the town came from or the hometown of Felix Berenguer de Marquina, Spanish naval officer and one time Spanish Governor General of the Philippines hail from, which some say the town was named after. Take your pick.

Muntinlupa

Literally means small or little land in Tagalog, its name (also known alternatively sometimes as Muntinglupa) described either the area’s thin soil which makes the place less suitable for agriculture or that there is little land devoted for farming as the area is mostly of hilly or rolling terrain. There is another version though which says its name came from a game of cards called “monte sa lupa”  which came about from a misunderstanding when a Spaniard asked some townsfolk the name of their place and they misunderstood for being asked about the game they were playing that time.

Navotas

This city’s name is derived from the Tagalog word “nabutas” which means either pierced or made open. The tale goes that before, Navotas and Malabon were one continuous land mass. Water began to eat away parts of the land from opposite directions until an opening was made, connecting the two bodies of water and in effect pierced through (nabutas) the former continuous land area. Henceforth, the land between the Manila Bay and the formed opening was referred to that name.

Parañaque

At least a couple of stories about its name agree that it sprang from the word “Palanyag.” As to how “Palanyag” came about, one story says it came from the word “palayag” or “navigation” which referred to a huge balete tree that used to stand in the area which looked like a large ship from afar. Another story suggest it came from a combination of two words: the aforementioned “palayag” and the word “palayan” or rice field which took into account the town’s early history as a farming and fishing community which the farmers and fisherfolk cooked up reportedly in a drinking session.

Another story tells its name is from the Spanish words “para aqui” or stop here which the townsfolk misheard as “para aniya aki.”

Pasay

One popular story suggests its name came from that of Dayang-dayang Pasay, a princess from the Kingdom of Namayan in present-day Manila’s Santa Ana district who inherited part of the kingdom’s territory which included the present day city, Makati, and Parañaque’s Baclaran.

Other stories suggest its name came from a certain Paz, a daughter of a hacienda owner whose death was grieved greatly by her lover, (“Paz ay!”) that it came from a native plant called pasaw which was abundant in the area, or it was derived from the Spanish words “paso hay” or “there’s a pass” referring to the path the Spaniards cleared of grass leading to Manila.

Pasig

Like Makati and (in one version at least) Mandaluyong, Pasig’s name is influenced by the river which also shares its name, though there are different versions about this. One version suggests its name came from the Tagalog word “dalampasigan,” referring to the banks of a body of water, which would be the river in this case. Another story suggests its name came from the Tagalog word “bagsik” or “pah-sik” as the Chinese pronounced it, referring to the raging waters of the river seen at times. Another theory forwarded is that its name is of Sanskrit origin (“passis”) which meant river flowing from one body of water to another, like the Pasig River which flows from the Laguna de Bay to Manila Bay.

Pateros

From the Spanish word which means “duck-raisers,” this town was named after the duck-raising community that thrived in the area, and still thrives to this day.

Quezon City

Originally conceived to be the capital city of the Philippines, it got its name thanks to Commonwealth Act No. 502 passed in 1939 by the National Assembly, the legislature of the Philippine Commonwealth, which not only created the capital city but also have it named as well after President Manuel L. Quezon, whose vision made its creation possible in the first place. What makes it weird is that Quezon was not only alive at that time, he was the incumbent president as well. One can imagine the awkwardness Quezon may have felt. So in a case of somehow “playing it safe,” Quezon did not actually affix his signature in the law but instead left it unsigned until it fully lapsed into law on October 12, 1939.

Pres. Manuel Quezon (courtesy of Malacañang’s Tumblr account)

San Juan

The only locality in the metropolis to be named after a saint, San Juan takes its name from San Juan Bautista or St. John the Baptist, the saint chosen by the Dominican priests to be the patron saint of the parish they would establish in the place. Actually its full name before is San Juan del Monte or St. John of the Mountain, the mountain referring to the hilly terrain of the area.

Taguig

Formerly called as Tagig, the city got its name from the Tagalog word “taga-giik” or “rice-threshers” as the inhabitants in the area were farmer-fishermen who were good at threshing rice. It became known as “pook ng mga taga-giik” or “land of the rice-threshers” but the Spaniards had a hard time pronouncing that name so they decided to call it “Tagui-ig” which was later shortened to “Taguig.”

Valenzuela

This city has the most recent story to tell about its name as it became known as such beginning in 1960, named after its notable son Dr. Pio Valenzuela, who served as one of the primary figures of the Katipunan movement of Andres Bonifacio and later becoming its mayor and governor of Bulacan as well. Interestingly, Valenzuela was supposed to be the name of a part of the old town of Polo that would be split from the town. However, the residents resisted the division so the town remained intact but it instead adopted Valenzuela as its new name.

Dr. Pio Valenzuela (courtesy of Xiao Chua)

The city’s old name Polo by the way, came from the Tagalog word for island. While the old town was not an island, it was surrounded by rivers which make it appear like it was an island.

acknowledgements to Wikipedia and other sources in the internet for this piece

4 thoughts on “the Metro Manila City/Town Name Guide

  1. Dear Sir, May I add what I believe is the true origin of Makati. Circa 1910 before there were jeepneys, my grand
    parents brought their horse and carriage (karetela) business to what was then the town of San Pedro, Rizal.
    They came from Bulacan where there were not much business for that means of transporting cargoes.(San Pedro,
    Rizal) which the locals called SanPiro was beginning to grow and the caretelas flourished. At the end of each business day,the horse and carriage must be sent to rest and the drivers would look for a dry elevated piece of
    land to protect the horse’s hooves from (dry rot) rotting. When anyone asks, where are you going? (saan ka pupunta)
    the drivers will say( duon sa makati) meaning where the water easily drains and not stagnant.People thought the
    kutchero meant the name of the place is Makati and started calling the town of SanPedro.Rizal Makati.

    • Thanks for this info. I must note though that the area was already known as Makati as early as the 16th century. I forgot to note in the piece but its full name before was San Pedro Makati or Macati.

  2. Did you also know that the pre-Spanish Muslim residents of what is now Manila called their village “Amanillah” which means “in the safety of allah?” Obviously, Manila is a derivation of its old Muslim name.

    • The thing is, while the residents then practice the Islamic faith, they were calling their place/kingdom as “Maynila” instead of “Amanillah” Also, most historians and linguists pretty much agree with the plant being where Manila’s name coming from.

      Still, it’s an interesting point you brought there.

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