List of Philippine provincial name etymologies

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The provinces of the Philippines are mainly named after geographic features like rivers and islands, after abundant flora and fauna, after ethnic groups or individuals, or bear a name of older local origin.

Directions in Spanish[edit]

Some provinces are prefixed/suffixed with a Spanish word denoting one of the four cardinal directions. These are:

  • Norte = "north" (del Norte means "of the north")
  • Sur = "south" (del Sur means "of the south")
  • Oriental = "east"
  • Occidental = "west"

Provincial names[edit]

Abra

  • abra, Spanish for "opening." Originally the area was called El Abra de Vigan ("The Opening of Vigan"),[1] for the narrow valley near the mouth of what is now called the Abra (Tineg) River located south of Vigan that served as a natural entrance to the fertile Abra River basin that makes up most of the province.

Agusan (del Norte and del Sur)

Aklan

  • akean, Aklanon for "where there is boiling/frothing,"[3] referring to the Aklan River, rendered in early Spanish accounts as El Río de Aclán,[4] which runs through the province.

Albay

  • Shortened form of the phrase al baybay, composed of a Spanish preposition and Bikol rootword, meaning "by the shore," referring to the coastal settlement of Sawangan, now the port district of Legazpi City.[5] In time it was shortened to Albay, and the name was applied to the province over which the town of Albay (now Legazpi City) served as the capital.

Antique

  • Hispanicized form of the word hamtik, Kinaray-a for a species of large red ants. The name originally only applied to the town of Hamtic, which served as the first capital of the province.[6] As with many other provinces created during the Spanish colonial era, the name of the capital town was applied to the whole province.

Apayao

  • apayaw, Isneg for "negotiable river," referring to what is now called the Apayao River that runs through the mountainous area inhabited by the Isneg.[7] The present spelling is derived from the native word's rendering in accordance with Spanish orthography.

Aurora

Basilan

Bataan

  • Evolved form of batan, a word of obscure origin, which was the indigenous name for the land across the bay from Maragondon, also rendered in early Spanish accounts as Vatan.[4] The current name "Bataán" (spoken with emphasis on the last syllable) was first used upon the establishment of the province in 1754.
  • "Batáan" (with emphasis on the second syllable) itself can mean "servant" or "place of suffering" in Tagalog, from the verb batâ, meaning "to tolerate" or "to suffer." [10]

Batanes

  • Hispanicized and pluralized form of vatan, the indigenous name for the province's main island, of unknown etymology. The name was applied to the cluster of ten islands of which Batan Island was the political and economic center.

Batangas

  • Spanish plural form of the Tagalog word batang, meaning "log," in reference to the trunks of logged trees that used to be floated down the Calumpang River which runs through the town (now city) of Batangas.[11] Originally the name only referred to the town, but as with many other provinces created during the Spanish colonial era, the name of the capital town was applied to the whole province. Other former names of the province that reflected the location of the administrative capital include Bombon (a settlement on the shores of what is now Taal Lake), Balayan and Comintan (after the settlement of Kumintang, now part of Batangas City).[12]

Benguet

  • Hispanicized rendering of bengget, the native term for a "lake where water does not drain," referring to the swampy area of what is now known as the La Trinidad Valley.[13] As with many other territories organized during the Spanish colonial era, the town lent its name to the area of which it served as the capital.
  • Hispanicized rendering of benget, Kankanaey word for either "edge," in reference to the capital town of La Trinidad's position at the edge of a swampy area, or "smelly," referring to the odor emanating from the swamp.[14]

Biliran

  • biliran, Waray for "place where (edges of) boats are made," referring to the shipbuilding industry in the island before the Spaniards transferred it to Cavite La Punta.[15] The rootword bilir means "the corner or edge of a boat".[16]
  • biliran, Waray for a species of grass used in weaving mats. Originally named Panamao, the island is thought to have been renamed by its inhabitants to confuse evil spirits that brought about the destructive eruption of Mount Panamao around 1669.[15]

Bohol

  • Hispanicized rendering of bo-ol, the name of the site of the blood compact (sanduguan) between the native king Rajah Sikatuna and the Spanish conquistador Miguel López de Legazpi,[17] which in turn may have been derived from the local term for a certain kind of small thorny tree.[18] The island was named after this settlement, now a barangay in Tagbilaran City, the capital of the province; the province in turn was named after this main island.

Bukidnon

  • bukidnon, Cebuano for "people of the mountain," referring to the indigenous tribes inhabiting the Central Mindanao highlands.[19] Early Spanish accounts give the name of these tribes as Buquidnones or Monteses de Mindanao[20] ("mountain people of Mindanao").

Bulacan

  • Hispanicized form of the word burakan, Tagalog or Kapampangan for "muddy place,"[19] referring to the marshy conditions in what is now the town of Bulacan, the former capital of the province that now bears its name.
  • Hispanicized rendering of bulakan, Tagalog for "place with cotton."[21]

Cagayan

Camarines (Norte and Sur)

  • Plural form of the Spanish word camarín, the term used by the Spaniards to refer to the boat sheds (kamalig) that were abundant in the fertile and densely populated Bicol River plain in what is now Naga City and central Camarines Sur.[23]

Camiguin

  • Hispanicized corruption of the word kamanigin, a local word of obscure origin, rendered in early Spanish accounts as Camaniguin,[4] perhaps derived from the Manobo word for "to climb"[24] (and in extension, "high elevation,") referring to the tall mountains of the island. Another possible rootword is manik, a word of Sanskrit origin that has entered the vocabulary of many Philippine languages, variously meaning as "jewel," "amulet," "ornament" or "bead."[25]

Capiz

  • Hispanicized form of kapid, Hiligaynon for the translucent shells that come from bivalve pearl oysters, which were found in abundance in the coastal settlement that formerly bore this name, which serves as the provincial capital.[26] Dialectal variations within the Spanish language led to the rendering of the native placename into Capiz, with the z originally pronounced as /θ/, like the th in the English word "this." The term for the pearl shells is now pronounced /kapis/ in modern Filipino as a result of pronouncing the z in "Capiz" as s.

Catanduanes

  • Hispanicized and pluralized form of katanduan, Bikol for "place abundant with tando trees," referring to the abundance of such trees in the island.[27]

Cavite

  • Hispanicized form of kawit or corruption of kalawit, Tagalog words for "hook," in reference to the small hook-shaped peninsula jutting into Manila Bay.[28] The name originally only applied to the peninsula (Cavite La Punta, now Cavite City) and the adjacent lowland coastal area (Cavite Viejo, now Kawit). Cavite City used to serve as the capital of the province until 1954, and as with many other provinces organized during the Spanish colonial era, the name of the capital was applied to the whole province.
  • Hispanicized form of kabit, Tagalog for "joined," "connected," or "attached," referring to the peninsula's topographical relation to the mainland.[28]

Cebu

  • Hispanicized corruption of sugbu, Cebuano for "to walk on shallow waters," referring to the shallows through which one had to wade in order to reach dry land from the port of the city that now bears its name.[29] Earlier Hispanicized variants of the settlement's name include Zubu and Çubu.[4] As with many other provinces organized during the Spanish colonial era, the name of the capital was applied to the whole province.

Compostela Valley

  • The province was named after its main topographic feature, the valley (also called the Monkayo Valley) on which the town of Compostela is located. The town's name in turn may have come from the city of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, the birthplace of a Spanish friar that came to the valley.[30]

Cotabato (North and South)

  • Hispanicized form of kuta watu, Maguindanaon for "stone fort," referring to an actual stone fort that stood on Tantawan Hill in the middle of the city that now bears its name.[31] The undivided province of Cotabato was named after the city that formerly served as its capital. Subsequent divisions and creation of new provinces have resulted in both North and South Cotabato exercising jurisdiction far from its namesake city.

Davao (del Norte, del Sur, Oriental and Occidental)

  • Hispanicized form of dav-oh, Obo for "a place beyond the high grounds." [32] Other sources also claim that this word was used by the Obo to refer to what is now called the Davao River, from which the town (later city) and province of Davao took its name.[33]
  • Hispanicized form of the words dabu (in Tagabawa Bagobo) or duhwow (in Guianga Bagobo) that refer to the Davao River[32] or the settlement at its mouth where the hinterland tribes went to barter with their forest products,[33] which later became the capital of the district and later, province of Davao.

Guimaras

  • Hispanicized corruption of himal-us,[34] the indigenous name for the province's main island, of unknown etymology. Early Spanish accounts render the name of the island in Spanish orthography as Ymaraes or Ymaras.[4]

Ifugao

  • Hispanicized corruption of ipugo, Ifugao for "of the hills"[35] or "of the earth,"[36] both referring to the ethnic group and the rice handed to them by the god Matungulan, according to myth. The province was named after the ethnic group, which comprises the majority of its population.

Ilocos (Norte and Sur)

  • Hispanicized and pluralized corruption of ilook, Ilokano for "of the coves/bays," referring to the lowland inhabitants of the northwest coast of Luzon, which is dotted with numerous bays and coves.[37] Yloco was the early Hispanic rendering of this term,[4] and in time the plural form Ylocos, later spelled as Ilocos, became prevalent.

Iloilo

  • Hispanicized corruption of irong-irong, Hiligaynon for "nose-like," referring to the shape of the delta formed by what are now called the Iloilo and Salog Rivers on which the settlement of the same name thrived.[38] The name originally only applied to the town (now city) of Iloilo (rendered in Spanish orthography as Yloylo or Yloilo),[4] which serves as the capital of the province. As with many other provinces organized during the Spanish colonial era, the name of the capital was applied to the whole province.

Isabela

  • Spanish given name. The province was named after Isabella II, the reigning queen of Spain at the time of the province's creation in 1856. "Isabela" by itself is the Spanish cognate of Elizabeth, ultimately derived from the Hebrew אֱלִישֶׁבַע Elisheva, which variously means "My God is an oath," or "My God is abundance," "God is satisfaction," or "God is perfection."[39]

Kalinga

  • kalingga, Gaddang or Ibanag for "headhunter," referring to the once-prevalent practice of the people that inhabited the mountains along what is now called the Chico River,[40] or a term used by neighboring tribes for "enemy," pertaining to this ethnic group.[41] The appellation is an exonym, a name given to the ethnic group by outsiders.[42][43] The province was named after this ethnic group, rendered in early Spanish accounts as Calingas[44] and in American accounts as Caylingas,[45] which comprises the majority of its population. The present spelling is derived from the native word's rendering in accordance with Spanish orthography.

La Union

  • la unión, Spanish for "the union," referring to the merging of towns from southern Ilocos Sur and northern Pangasinan that resulted in the creation of the province in 1854.[46]

Laguna

  • laguna, Spanish for "lake," or "lagoon," referring to the large body of freshwater (Laguna de Bay, Spanish for "Lake of Bay") that was named after the province's first capital, the town of Bay (pronounced "BAI").[47] Twenty of the province's 30 towns and cities border the lake.

Lanao (del Norte and del Sur)

  • Hispanicized form of ranaw, Maranao for "lake," referring to the lake which lies in the center of the plateau that comprised most of the territory of the old province of Lanao.[48]

Leyte (and Southern Leyte)

Maguindanao

  • Hispanicized rendering of magindanaw, Maguindanaon for "that which has suffered inundation,"[50] referring to the flood plains of central Mindanao that are seasonally inundated by the Mindanao River, where much of the province's territory is located.

Marinduque

Masbate

  • Hispanicized corruption of masabat, Bikol for "to meet along the way,"[53] referring to the strategic position of the town (now city) that bears the name, as well as the island named after it, within Philippine maritime trade routes. As with many other provinces, the name of the capital or main island was applied to the whole province. Some early accounts record the name of the island as Masbat.[54]

Mindoro (Occidental and Oriental)

  • Hispanicized form of minolo or mintolo, local words of now-unrecognizable meaning, referring to the name of Mindoro Island's principal trading town at the time of Spanish contact, located on the northern coast facing Luzon, presently a sitio in the municipality of Puerto Galera, a former capital of the Mindoro Province.[55][56][57] Documents written in Tagalog as late as the 18th century still referred to the island as Minolo.[58] One popular (but erroneous) origin of the name, mina de oro (Spanish for "gold mine"), was the result of the Spaniards giving meaning to a phrase that they could recognize,[56] despite the fact that no major gold-mining industry existed or exists in the island.[59][60]

Misamis (Occidental and Oriental)

  • The undivided province of Misamis was named after its former capital, the town of Misamis (now Ozamiz City). The name is thought to be the contraction of misa-misa, a phrase that the natives used in the early days of Christianization of the northern coast of Mindanao to welcome priests that visited the area to celebrate mass.[61]
  • Hispanicized corruption of kuyamis, Subanon for a variety of sweet coconut that used to be the food staple of the natives.[62]

Mountain Province

  • From the English word mountain. The name "Mountain Province" was first used in the American period to refer to the large province in the Cordillera Mountains that also included the present-day provinces of Apayao, Benguet, Ifugao and Kalinga. The sub-province of Bontoc (which also means "mountain" in the Bontoc language[63]) retained the name "Mountain Province" after it became an independent province in 1966.

Negros (Occidental and Oriental)

  • negros, Spanish for "blacks," referring to the dark-skinned Negritos that inhabited the island which was then known as Buglas.[64]

Nueva Ecija

  • nueva Écija, Spanish for "new Écija", in honor of the hometown of province's first Spanish governor (Gov. Acuyar) in Andalusia, Spain.[65] The current pronunciation of the province's name in both English and Filipino is different from the Spanish original, in that the emphasis is placed on the second syllable ("e-SI-ha") and not on the first ("E-si-ha").

Nueva Vizcaya

Palawan

Pampanga

  • Hispanicized form of pampang or pangpang, Kapampangan for "river bank," referring to the densely populated area on the northern shores of Manila Bay, the settlements of which stood on the banks of the delta of what is now called the Pampanga River.[69]

Pangasinan

  • Hispanicized form of pang-asinan, Pangasinan for "place where salt is made," referring to the coastal region of the Agno River plain which had an extensive thriving salt-making industry, even in pre-colonial times.[70]

Quezon

  • Spanish surname. The province, formerly known as Tayabas(meaning fern in Tagalog) (after its old capital town), was renamed in 1949 in honor of Manuel Quezon, former president (1935-1944), who was born in the town of Baler, which at the time was still part of the province. The town is now the capital of the province of Aurora, formerly a sub-province of Quezon, but became a separate province in 1979. The pronunciation of both the former president's and the province's name in Spanish, English and Filipino places the emphasis on the first syllable ("KE-son") and not on the last ("ke-SON"), which the erroneous Spanish spelling variant Quezón[71] suggests.

Quirino

  • Spanish surname. The province was named after Elpidio Quirino, former president (1948-1953). The name "Quirino" itself was ultimately derived from the Latin Quirinus, meaning "armed with a lance."[72]

Rizal

  • Spanish surname. The province was named after José Rizal, inspirational figure of the Philippine Revolution and national hero. "Rizal" in turn, is a modified form of the Spanish word ricial, literally meaning "able to grow back when cut" and was added to the family name by Rizal's father upon moving from Biñan to Calamba.[73]

Romblon

  • Early Spanish accounts indicate that the name of the island was rendered in Spanish orthography as Donblon,[4] which is probably based on the native word lomlom, a term with cognates across many Philippine languages meaning "dark," or "shady,"[74] perhaps in reference to the once-thick forests of the island that now bears the name, which in turn, is home to the capital town after which the province was named. The present form of the name is the Hispanicized corruption of this word.

Samar (Eastern, Northern and Western)

  • Hispanicized form of samal, (rendered in early Spanish accounts as Zamal[4]) an indigenous term formerly used to refer to the people that inhabited the island.[75] The name only applied to the more populous western region of the island originally, but was eventually applied to the whole island and the military province that was established in 1841. It may find cognacy with the Malay word samar which means "disguised," "dim," "vague," or "obscure."[76][77]

Sarangani

  • Hispanicized corruption of the Malay expression sarang(an) ini, meaning "this is our home," or literally, "this is our nest,"[78] referring to Sarangani Island. The name originally only applied to that island (which lends its name to the municipality of Sarangani, Davao del Sur), and was eventually applied to the bay protruding into southern Mindanao which lies just to the northwest. The province itself is named after this bay that it almost surrounds. Early Spanish accounts give the name of the island as Sarangã.[79]

(Zamboanga) Sibugay

  • sibug-ay, Cebuano for "to walk backwards or withdraw in numbers," from the rootword sibug[80] with the suffix -ay denoting reciprocity or action by many,[81] perhaps in reference to the tidal movement in the bay or river that now bear the name. The province takes part of its name from these two geographical features.[82]

Siquijor

  • Hispanicized form of the phrase si Kihod, Cebuano for "it's Kihod," referring to a former ruler of the island. "Kihod", in turn, means "low tide" in Cebuano.[83]

Sorsogon

  • Hispanicized form of sogsogon, Bikol verb meaning "to continuously follow a course, such as a trail or a river."[84] This may be interpreted as referring to the action that one needs to take in order to reach the settlement that now bears this name, located at the head of what is now called Sorsogon Bay, if one starts off from Ticao Pass.[84] Alternatively, it can also be interpreted as pertaining to the direction needed to be taken in order to reach the old town center of the provincial capital, located between what are now barangays Capuy and Bulabog (formerly Domanaog), by following what is now called the Sorsogon River.[84] A different meaning of the verb defines it as "to avoid a river, lake or sea," in reference to the route one needs to take in order to reach what is now the town that bore the name from Albay — by avoiding the swift-flowing Cawayan River and the steep slopes around it and taking the path on the opposite side of the river.[85]

Sultan Kudarat

Sulu

Surigao (del Norte and del Sur)

  • Early historical accounts record the name of the river that empties on the northern tip of Mindanao Island as Zurigan,[89] which may have been derived from suligan, native word for "where there is sulig," a species of fish[90] that may have been abundant in the river that now bears the name or the adjacent sea. Just like the practice in naming many other provinces, the undivided province of Surigao was named after its capital, the town that lies at the mouth of the river.
  • Hispanicized form of surugu, Manobo for "paradise for the pure and righteous," ultimately derived from the Malay-Sanskrit concept of heaven (surga).[91]

Tarlac

  • Hispanicized rendering of tarlak, Aeta term for a certain grass related to talahib (cogon) and tanglar (Zambal for lemongrass).[92] The area around the current capital city (after which the province was named) was described as matarlak, an adjective meaning "abundant with tarlak grass."[93]

Tawi-Tawi

  • Sinama form of jawi-jawi, old Malay for "very far," in reference to the island's or the island group's position in relation to other pre-colonial Malay polities.[94] Early Spanish accounts give the name of the island as Tavi-Tavi or Tavitavi.[95]
  • Corruption of tawid-tawid, Sinama for "to criss-cross (the sea)," in reference to the necessary way of traveling between the numerous inhabited islands of the island group.[94]

Zambales

  • Hispanicized plural form of sambal or sambali, the Kapampangan name for the people who used to form the dominant ethnic group in the west-central coast of Luzon, or the land they occupy. The terms themselves may have been derived from the rootword samba, meaning "to worship."[96]

Zamboanga (del Norte, del Sur and Sibugay)

  • Hispanicized form of samboangan, Sinama for "anchorage," or literally, "place of mooring poles," referring to the settlement and port town at the southern tip of Mindanao's western peninsula, which has lent its name to the chartered city that used to serve as the undivided province's capital.[97] Some persisting erroneous folk etymologies for the name of Zamboanga include jambangan (Malay for "place of flowers") or sampaga (for "flower"),[98] both of which cannot be linked linguistically to the current form of the name.[99] It is clear that early historical accounts give the name of the settlement as Samboangan, with samboang ("mooring pole") as the obvious root, and not jambang.[100][101]

References[edit]

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