Where do the Names

of Cities in Metro

Manila Come From?

by Anne Marielle Eugenio, April 16, 2020 12:23am

Art by Dani Elevazo


Where do the Names of Cities in Metro Manila Come From?

by Anne Marielle Eugenio, April 16, 2020 12:23am
Art by Dani Elevazo

Metro Manila is often associated with traffic, pollution, and overpopulation. But this region is more than just all those things. It is also filled with stories that we are unaware of. This time, why don’t we educate ourselves of the history of Metro Manila’s 16 cities, starting with the origin of their names.


First known as Aromahan or Libis Espina by the Spanish Colonizers, Caloocan was a small barrio in Tondo located in a libis or lowland. The name Caloocan, according to folktales, came from the Tagalog root word lo-ok meaning bay, as it is near Manila bay. Others say it is a derived word from kasuluk-sulokan or innermost area. This is because Caloocan was located at the corner where the old towns of Tondo and Tambobong (Malabon) met.

Las Pinas

There are different stories surrounding the name origin of Las Pinas. One says the traders from Batangas and Cavite brought their first pinas or pineapples for sale in this place, hence the label. Another one suggests the name came from “Las Penas” or "The Rocks”, relating to the quarrying of stones and adobe used for constructing bridges and buildings.


Stories suggest Makati came from the word “kati” meaning receding tide. It was said Miguel Lopez de Legazpi asked a local leader what the name of the place was. The leader, mistaking the question for the current situation of the river nearby, answered “Makati na. Kumakati na,” pertaining to the tide. Some say the name is in relation to the plant lupang-kalabaw which is makati or itchy when in contact with the skin.


Malabon was once known as Tambobong. Legends say its name came from the phrase “maraming labong” which translates into “plenty of bamboo shoots.” This labong also happen to be one of the original ingredients of Malabon’s delicacy, the Pancit Malabon.


According to folklore there once lived a lovely chieftain’s daughter named Manda. A man who will win a series of tribal competitions will win her hand in marriage. Luyong, a maharlika despised by Manda’s father, took the challenge and won. They married each other despite the disapproval of Manda's father. They settled in a place that was later named as Mandaluyong, which came from both of their names.


The country’s capital was formerly known as Maynilad, due to the abundance of the flowering shrub nilad along the banks of the Pasig River. Soon, it was shortened to Manila, coming up to the present name of the city.


The country’s shoe capital’s name came to be during the construction of the chapel in Jesus dela Pena. A Jesuit priest asked one of the laborers what would be the name of the structure. The worker, thinking he was being asked about the construction’s condition, answered ‘Marikit-na po.” Soon, it was shortened into ‘Marikina.”

Other story days Marikina was used to honor the place where the Jesuit priests that established Jesus dela Pena came from: Mariquina.


There are three stories concerning the origin of Muntinlupa’s name. First, it came with the association of the area’s thin topsoil, thus the name “munting lupa.”. The second one concerns the Spaniards asking the locals what the name of their place was. They answered “Monte sa Lupa”, thinking the Spaniards were asking about the name of their card game.

The last one says it came from the topographical nature of the area, a mountain land, which later transformed into Muntinlupa.


According to a story, Navotas was the result of the city being separated by a body of water. The wild waters of Manila Bay eroded a strip of land between Malabon and Tondo, Manila until an opening was formed. This opening carved out a channel presently known as Navotas River. The phenomenon was called "nabutas" which means "pierced through". It then evolved to "Navotas.”


A story handed down to many generations says there was once a Spaniard who told a coachman “Para aqui” which means stop here. He didn’t understand the command and kept going, causing the Spaniard to repeat “para aqui” over and over. The coachman left the carriage and told the townsfolk how the Spaniard kept saying “para aniya ke,” which the people found funny. Since then, the phrase stuck.


One legend says Pasay came from the cry of Jose, a man who lost the love of his life, Paz. During her burial he cried out “Paz-ay.” Paz’s parents, out of sorrow and regret, named their hacienda Paz-ay and soon, the whole town was called Pasay. Another story suggests that Pasay came from pasaw, a plant with exotic aroma abundant in the area.

Still, the city believes Pasay is named after a princess of Namayan kingdom, Dayang-dayang Pasay. The royal capital of the kingdom was built in Sapa, known today as Santa Ana.


One of the most believed theories of Pasig’s name origin came from Dr. Jose Villa Panganiban, linguist, polyglot, professor, and former director of the Institute of National Language. According to him, “Pasig” is an old Sanskrit word meaning “river flowing from one body to another.”  Pasig River flows from Laguna de Bay to Manila Bay.


Known for its duck-raising industry, Pateros is said to be named after pateros which means duck-raisers. Pateros also has a small shoe-making industry, which can be linked to the origin of the name of Metro Manila’s only municipality.


This city is named after former president Manuel L. Quezon. Quezon City became the country’s capital from 1948 to 1976 when Manila was starting to get crowded and was an easy target for bombing by naval guns.

San Juan

"San Juan" is a shorter version of the city's longer name "San Juan del Monte" (Saint John of the Mountain). Franciscan Friars gave this name to the city for its hilly and elevated terrain compared to other areas in Metro Manila. San Juan’s patron saint is John the Baptist, which makes sense since the area is near a river and the presence of many natural springs.


The original 800 farmer-fishermen residents of this city were good at threshing rice after harvest. They were known as “mga taga-giik,” and their settlement as “pook ng mga taga-giik.” Spanish friar Fray Alonso de Alvarado, together with conquistador Rey Lopez de Villalobos found “taga-giik” difficult to pronounce, pronouncing the word like “tagui-ig.” “Tagui-ig” then was shortened to the present day “Taguig.”


The city was named after Dr. Pio Valenzuela, a Filipino physician and a leader of Katipunan. Fun fact: Valenzuela is known as the “Northern Gateway to Metropolitan Manila” due to two major highways traversing it–the MacArthur Highway and the North Luzon Expressway.

Let’s keep in mind the interesting stories of the cities of Metro Manila. These are pieces of history that will make us understand the origins of places and in its little way, understand our roots, too.


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