Learn the origin stories behind the names of Metro Manila cities!
Have you ever heard the name of a place and you just have to ask, “How did they name this place”? No? Well… You’re missing out. Knowing the origin or etymology of a place name will give you an insight on how the people see or treat the world — or in this case, their home. It’s like how Bournemouth, Bourne, Eastbourne, and Ashbourne are all related to brooks, streams, and rivers because of the word “bourne” or how Japan’s Japanese name is Nihon “Land of the Rising Sun” because of its eastern position relative to China. Imagine… you can learn centuries worth of history just from knowing the origin of a place’s name!
Throughout this post, you will learn how simple miscommunication, local love stories, and overall hijinks or mischiefs can shape the complete address of the future generations.
“Why is our town named like that? Our great-great-great-great ancestor broke up with his girlfriend and the neighbors were so sad for them, they named the place as their love-child.”
It is true that most of the place names in this list are relatively tame compared to Sexmoan (now Sasmuan) of Pampanga or Kili-Kili (“kili-kili” means “armpit” in Tagalog) of Lanao del Sur, but it is undeniable that the history of the names of Metro Manila cities are also rich in culture and history.
Disclaimer: Not all origins in this list have historical research or records to back-up the claims. Some of the origins were passed down the generations through the word of mouth. While some are akin to tall tales and legends from the local oldest people.
Without further ado, these are the origins of Metro Manila cities!
Makasaysayang Lungsod (“Historic City”), The Only Divided City in the Philippines, The City of Heroes, Cradle of Katipunan
Due to its proximity to the Manila Bay, some people believe that Caloocan came from the Tagalog word look (that is pronounced /loh – ok/, not /look/ as in “see” in English) meaning “bay”. For some, its position is the more compelling source of its origin. You see, Caloocan is the sulok or “corner” the old towns of Tondo and Malabon meet. So, for some, Caloocan is the ka-sulok-an (“corner-most”) of Tondo and Malabon.
Home of the Bamboo Organ, City of Love and Progress, Salt Center of Metro Manila, Lantern Capital of Metro Manila
There are several versions of this place’s origin. In one version, they say that Las Piñas was literally from the pineapples (“las piñas” is Spanish for “the pineapples”). They said that the first place pineapple traders from Cavite and Batangas traded their first pineapples in Las Piñas.
Another version tells the story of how Las Piñas was from “Las Peñas” or “the rocks” due to the quarrying of rocks and adobe in the old Las Piñas. The latter story may have more bearing because of a preserved church bell inside the church museum. Inscribed on the bell were the words, “Siendo cura del pueblo de Laspeñas el M.R.P. Padre Diego Cera se fundió este equilón año de 1820″, which showed that during 1820, the town’s name was already “Las Peñas”.
The Wall Street of the Philippines, The Financial Capital of the Philippines, The Business Capital of the Philippines
If you are acquainted with enough Tagalog, you would know that the Tagalog word for “itch” is kati and the Tagalog for “itchy” (and the sexually needy) is makati. This is one of those several that the origin of the name of a thing or place was due to miscommunication or language barrier. In this case, the confused parties involved was said to be Miguel López de Legazpi and an unnamed Tagalog speaker.
The story goes that de Legaspi asked the local Tagalog speaker for the name of the place. At that time, they were at a swamp on the south of the Pasig River and the Tagalog person pointed at the receding tide of the said river, “Makati, kumakati na” (“Ebbing, the tide is ebbing”).
Venice of the Philippines
According to “Etimologias Filipinas”, Malabon used to be Tambobong due to the abundant tambo tress growing in the area. However, according to legends, a certain edible plant used to be abundant in the old Malabon area. That plant is the labóng or “bamboo shoots” in Tagalog and Malabon literally means “plenty of bamboo shoots”.
There’s also the story that the old Malabon used to be a vacation spot for government officials and friars of Intramuros. It was said that Malabon is a “mala” (Spanish for “bad”) place to walk on because the riverside mud ruined their expensive leather shoes and long robes. On the flipside, it is also “bueno” (Spanish for “good”) place to visit because of its cool air and delicious cuisine.
The Tiger City of the Philippines, The Shopping Capital of the Philippines
Of all the cities in Metro Manila, Mandaluyong has some of the most diverse versions of origin. For the romantic readers, you will love this part.
A legend tells of a story about the budding romance between a daughter of a chieftain and a lowly maharlika (“warrior or freedman”), Manda and Luyong. Due to their different class status, the chieftain, Manda‘s father was against their relationship. To prove that he’s a fitting husband for the lovely Manda, Luyong won a series of tribal competition to gain the maiden’s hand in marriage and emerged victoriously. The place where they settled a couple is now called Mandaluyong.
A less romantic story states that Mandaluyong came from the word luyong, a kind of tree that was abundant in the area used for pieces of furniture and canes. In another story, it was said that the area was called Mandaluyong from the word daluyong meaning “big waves of the sea/ storm surge” because when some foreigners asked the locals as to what the place was called, the locals misunderstood and instead described its terrain that resembles rolling waves of the sea.
The Distinguished and Ever Loyal City, The Queen City of the Pacific, The Pearl of the Orient
The pattern of naming a place based on the abundance of a certain plant or tree didn’t escape the old Manila settlers. It is said that Manila, or Maynila in Tagalog, was derived from two Tagalog words; may meaning “there is,” and nilad. The latter being the name of a flowering shrub that used to grow along the shores of Manila Bay and the Pasig River.
The Shoe Capital of the Philippines, Home of the World’s Largest Shoes
Due to the lack of recorded pieces of evidence or sources on how Marikina became Marikina, efforts were made to gather local legends from the elder residents from Marikina. If you think that Mandaluyong has a lot of origin stories, wait til you see Marikina’s.
In one version, one of the builders of the Jesus dela Peña Chapel was named “Mariquina”. He was also a young priest who was tasked to baptize the children in the area. Because of this, the place was named after him.
Similar to the first story, the next version also took place during the construction of the Jesus dela Peña Chapel. However, in this version, an unnamed Jesuit priest was supervising the construction and the laborers were Filipino. Nearing the completion of the chapel, the priest asked, “How should we call this chapel?” (or something along those lines) in Spanish. Due to the language barrier, the Tagalog laborers misunderstood the question, thinking that what being asked was the condition of the chapel. One worker answered, “Marikit na, po“ (“It is already beautiful”).
In another version, it is said that the Jesuit priests who came and established the Jesus dela Peña originated from a beautiful town in the province of Nueva Viscaya in Spain. The said town is called Mariquina.
Another version of the story centered around a lady named Maria Cuina. Maria Cuina is the combination of the girl-next-door and nerd-girl trope. She is beautiful, polite, virtuous, and intelligent. She is also great in business and eventually became wealthy. Nonetheless, she never forgot her roots and extended her fortunes to the charity. Because of this, she became very famous not only in the old Marikina but also in the city of Manila.
Remember “Marikit na“? Well, in the last version of the origin story, the town was originally called Marikit-na in 1787. It was later changed to Mariquina. According to Dr. Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, this was done in recognition of Capt. Berenguer de Mariquina who led the town in 1788.
Emerald City of the Philippines, the Gateway to the Calabarzon Area
Remember in elementary where you might have seen a cross-section image of the layers of the soil? Well, the first story about the origin of Muntinlupa is relevant to that. It is said that Muntinlupa got its name from its association with the thin topsoil (munti means “tiny” and lupa means “soil/land” in Tagalog) in the area. Another variation of this soil/land association Monte-lupa or “mountain-land” because of the area’s topographical nature.
In the last version of the story, it is said that some locals were playing a card game when some 16th century Spaniards asked them what was the name of their place was. And they replied, “Monte sa Lupa” mistaking the question for what card game they were playing.
The Fishing Capital of the Philippines
According to one legend, the area where Navotas is right now used to be larger and longer, extending north and south of the bay. However, the town was eaten away by the sea until an opening was made. Thus, water began to flow through the opening, filling up the hole or void left by the sea. Because of this, the people started to refer to the place as butas (“hole”), nayon ng butas (“holed nation”), or nabutas (“with holes”). Through the years, the place came to be known as “Nabotas”, then “Navotas”.
The Fashion Capital of the Philippines, The City of Lights, The Bay City
There are several versions as to how the City of Parañaque got its name. In one story, it is said that long ago, at the mouth of the present Parañaque River, there stood a balete tree that looked like a majestic ship when looked from afar. Due to this, the tree and eventually, its surrounding area, came to be “Palanyag”, taken from the term palayag, which means “point of navigation”.
In another version of that story, it states that the pre-colonial natives who lived close to the Manila Bay were fishermen whose main livelihood was fishing or paglalayag. Close to them, in the neighboring place called Muntinglupa, the natives’ main livelihood was farming rice farms or palayan. One day, the fishermen and rice farmers had a feast. Naturally, many got drunk. One rice farmer suggested that they should name the whole place, present Parañaque and Muntinlupa alike, “Palayan” as a sign of cooperation and goodwill between the two groups. However, a fisherman protested and said that they should name it “Palalayag” instead. As a compromise, both parties agreed to combine the two words and came up with “Palalanyag”. To celebrate, another drunken guest shouted, “Mabuhay ang Palanyag at ang mga taga-Palanyag!”. Both groups liked this shorter word better and ever since then, the place was called Palanyag.
In another version of the origin story, during the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, some soldiers riding a kalesa or horse-drawn carriage asked to be taken to a certain place. However, the language barrier happened and the coachman did not understand the Spanish soldier’s pronunciation. When they arrived at their destination, one of the soldiers said, “Para aqui, Para aqui!” meaning, “Stop here, stop here!”. The coachman did not understand and took the soldiers’ hurried voices as a command to go faster.
The Gateway to the Philippine Islands, The Travel City, The Travel Capital of the Philippines, Home of Aliwan Fiesta, Trading Wall of the Philippines, Festival Capital of Metro Manila, Asian City, Japanese City of the Philippines
One of the more popular stories says that Pasay got its name from a princess named Dayang-dayang Pasay. She was a princess of the Namayan Kingdom that existed around the year 1175. She used to own the lands of the present areas of Culi-culi, Pasay and Baclaran.
On a saddening note, one version of the story states that Pasay came from the wail of a brokenhearted man. In this story, the star-crossed lovers are a couple named Jose and Paz. The two were in love and intended on a life together. However, their love was forbidden. Jose’s father was one of many tenants of the hacienda of the father of Paz. Jose was ordered to stay away from Paz. Overcome by misery, Paz died.
At her funeral, the elite came to mourn and pray. From a distance, Jose stood and when everybody left, he dug a tunnel into the earth to be with his love. Once joined, he let out a sharp and anguished cry “Paz-ay!“. In sorrow and regret, the parents of Paz named their hacienda Paz-ay.
The city’s name Pasig was believed to have come from the old Sanskrit word “pasega”, or “sand”, which refers to the tribal community beside the sandy edges of the river. Some historians believed that El Pasig came from “Legazpi” as in Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the first Governor-General of the Spanish East Indies.
However, according to Jose Villa Panganiban, the former director of the Institute of National Language, “Pasig” is another ancient Sanskrit word meaning “a waterway coming from one body of water to another,” which briefly describes the river because its flow starts from Laguna de Bay, leading to Manila Bay.
Heart of Metro Manila, Home of Philippine Presidents, Tiangge Capital of the Philippines
Unlike the rest of the origins in this blog post. San Juan’s etymology is clear as a sunny Philippine day. San Juan is a contraction or shorter version of the city’s traditional name, “San Juan del Monte” (“Saint John of the Mountain”). In the Philippines, it is a common practice to combine the patron saint and the type of landform of the area. In this case, Saint John the Baptist is the patron saint of the community and they live in a hilly or even mountainous terrain.
The City of Stars, The Dragon City of the Philippines, Largest City of the Philippines, Home of the Philippine Congress
It was founded by and named after Manuel L. Quezon, the 2nd President of the Philippines, to replace Manila as the national capital. However, as you may know by now, the national-capital part didn’t push through.
Metro Manila’s ProbinSyudad, Rice Bowl of Greater Manila
If the nickname “Rice Bowl of Greater Manila” didn’t give it away, Taguig had a long history of rice planting. It is said that the original 800 farmer-fishermen settlers of the area were so good at threshing rice after harvest they were referred to as the mga taga-giik (“rice threshers”) and their settlement as the pook ng mga taga-giik (“place of the rice threshers”). When Spanish friar Fray Alonso de Alvarado, together with conquistador Rey Lopez de Villalobos crossed the Pasig River to reach Taguig in 1571, they found taga-giik difficult to pronounce. The closest pronunciation they could do sounded like tagui-ig.
The Vibrant City, The City of Discipline
In Spanish, Valenzuela is a diminutive form of Valencia which means “little Valencia”. The name Valenzuela is also the surname of Pío Valenzuela, a Tagalog physician and was one of the leaders of Katipunan. He was regarded as a member of the Katipunan triumvirate that started the Philippine Revolution against Spanish colonial authorities in 1896. He also served as the provisional chairman for the Katipunan.
- Baybay, D. F. & Marquez-De Guzman, A. (2001). Palanyag to Parañaque: A History. City of Parañaque.
- “History of Quezon City Public Library” (PDF). 21 November 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 25 July 2014.