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 = "of the North"
  • Sur = "south"
    • del Sur = "of the South"
  • Oriental = "east"
  • Occidental = "west"

Provincial names[edit]

Abra

  • abra, Spanish for "opening" or "gap." Originally the area called El Abra de Vigan ("The Gap of Vigan"),[1] only referred to the narrow but conspicuous gap along the Malayan (Ilocos) mountain range[2] through which the Tineg River has cut an exit. This topographic feature, situated southeast of the city of Vigan, where the Quirino Bridge is now located, served as the natural entrance to the fertile Tineg River basin. Over time the phrase was shortened, and the area which Abra referred to expanded to include most of the upland territory drained by the Tineg River between the Malayan Range and the Cordillera Central, and inhabited by the Itneg.

Agusan (del Norte and del Sur)

Aklan

  • akean, Akeanon for "where there is boiling or frothing,"[4] describing the water flow of the Aklan River at shallow areas near its mouth, where Kalibo is located, especially during the dry season. Aclán was the original name of Kalibo,[4] and the river was known in early Spanish accounts as El Río de Aclán ("the river of Aclán")[5] The Spanish-era territory that covered the river valley was also called Aclán but was later renamed Calivo, following subsequent divisions.[6] Upon the separation of the Akeanon-speaking part of Capiz in 1956, Aclán (spelled in Filipino orthography as Aklan) was resurrected as the name for the new 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.[7] 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 abundant in the town of Hamtic (formerly rendered as Antique in Spanish[5]), which served as the first capital of the province.[8] As with many other provinces created during the Spanish colonial era, the name of the capital town was applied to the whole province.

Apayao

  • apa'yaw, a word in various Cordilleran languages meaning "overtaking," in reference to the swift-flowing river that drains the mountainous terrain inhabited by the Isneg ethnic group.[9] Among the Isneg, apa'yaw only refers to the main branch of the upper reaches of the Apayao-Abulug River system, and only those who live along that part of the river basin are called i-apa'yaw ("from Apa'yaw").[9][10] Apa'yaw as an appellation for the entire ethnic group is therefore an exonym; Isneg is the endonym. Apayao (with the spelling rendered in accordance with Spanish orthography) was the name given to the sub-province established in 1907 containing an Isneg-majority population.

Aurora

Basilan

  • basilan, a native word possibly meaning "waterway into the [open] sea," referring to the body of water connecting the Sulu Sea to the Moro Gulf and the Celebes Sea.[12] The first Spanish accounts of the area call the province's main island Tagima (variously spelled Taghima, Taguina, Tagliman and Taguima),[13] even though the strait separating this island from Mindanao was already known as Basilan.[12] Over time, the name of the strategic waterway was applied to the island across the water from the Spanish military stronghold at Samboangan.
  • Contraction of basih balan, Bahasa Sug for "magnetic iron,"[14] referring to the rich iron ore deposits found in the island that now bears its name, after which the province was named.

Bataan

  • Evolved form of batan, a word of obscure origin, which was the indigenous name for the land across the water from Maragondon, also rendered in early Spanish accounts as Vatan.[5] The term batang has cognates across various Austronesian languages, mostly being a word that means "the main part of something," such as "trunk" or "body"[15] (see Batangas below). Reflexes of batang in some Austronesian languages lend support to the possible interpretation "land bridge," given the term's usage related to elongated, trunk-like shapes.[16] On a more abstract level, the term means "the most important or pre-eminent thing."[17] The use of batan for the province's namesake peninsula may therefore be related either to: 1) its conspicuousness within the Manila Bay area, given the topographic prominence of its two high peaks (Mount Natib, and Mount Mariveles which dominates entrance to Manila Bay), or 2) its elongated shape and topography, which resulted from a plateau being formed between the two aforementioned volcanic peaks (see Batanes below for a similar interpretation).

Batanes

  • Hispanicized and pluralized form of vatan, the indigenous name for the province's main island, of obscure etymology. The term batang has cognates across various Austronesian languages, mostly being a word that means "the main part of something," such as "trunk" or "body"[15] (see Batangas below). Reflexes of batang in some Austronesian languages lend support to the possible interpretation "land bridge," given the term's usage related to elongated, trunk-like shapes.[16] On a more abstract level, the term means "the most important or pre-eminent thing."[15] The use of batan for the province's namesake island may therefore be related either to: 1) its conspicuousness within its immediate island group, given the topographic prominence of its two high peaks (Mount Iraya and Mount Matarem), or 2) its elongated shape and topography, which resulted from a plateau being formed between the two aforementioned volcanic peaks. The province and the island group was named after the pluralized version of Batan, as this island served as 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.[17] 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 destroyed by volcanic eruption and later re-established as the town of Santa Teresita), Balayan and Comintan (after the settlement of Kumintang, now part of Batangas City).[18]

Benguet

  • Hispanicized rendering of benget, Kankanaey word for "edge." This was the original name of the settlement at the edge of a swamp formed by the Balili River flooding the flat valley floor. Benget eventually lent its name to the swampy valley (which has since been converted for agricultural production and is now known as the La Trinidad Valley), as well as the Spanish-era comandancia and American-era province administered from it.[19]

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.[20] The rootword bilir means "the corner or edge of a boat".[21]
  • biliran, Waray for a species of grass used in weaving mats, which grew in abundance following the eruption of the island's volcano. Originally named Panamao after the volcano, the island is thought to have been renamed Biliran by its inhabitants after the now-abundant grass to confuse evil spirits believed to have brought about the destructive volcanic eruption around 1669.[20]

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,[22] which in turn may have been derived from the local term for a certain kind of small thorny tree.[23] 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.[24] Early Spanish accounts give the name of these tribes as Buquidnones or Monteses de Mindanao[24] ("mountain people of Mindanao").

Bulacan

  • Hispanicized form of the word burakan, Tagalog or Kapampangan for "muddy place,"[25] referring to the marshy conditions in what is now the town of Bulacan, the former capital of the province that now bears its name.

Cagayan

  • Hispanicized form of the word kagayan, a native term meaning "place near or on a river," with the root word kagay having cognates in many Austronesian languages as a term for "river," referring to the main river of northeast Luzon.[26] Early Spanish accounts consistently call the river and the surrounding countryside Cagayan[5] or Cagaian,[27] thereby making the folk etymology katagayan ("place of tagay trees")[28] erroneous.

Camarines (Norte and Sur)

  • Plural form of the Spanish word camarín, the term used by the Spaniards to refer to the storage sheds (kamalig) that were abundant in the fertile and densely populated Bicol River plain in what is now Naga City and central Camarines Sur.[29]

Camiguin

  • Hispanicized corruption of the word kamanigin, a local word of obscure origin, rendered in early Spanish accounts as Camaniguin,[5] perhaps derived from the Manobo word for "to climb"[30] (and in extension, "high elevation,") referring to the tall mountains of the island. Another possible meaning is "showy,"[31] in recognition of the prominence of the island's tall mountains when viewed on the horizon.

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.[32] 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.[33]

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.[34] The name originally only applied to the peninsula (Cavite La Punta, now Cavite City) and the adjacent mainland 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.

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.[35] Earlier Hispanicized variants of the settlement's name include Zubu and Çubu.[5] 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 visited the valley.[36]

Cotabato (North and South)

  • Hispanicized form of kuta watu, Maguindanaon for "stone fort," referring to an actual stone fort that stood on Tantawan (now Pedro Colina) Hill, around which grew the settlement that eventually became the capital of the undivided province.[37] Subsequent divisions and the creation of new provinces have resulted in both North and South Cotabato exercising jurisdiction far from their namesake city.

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

  • Hispanicized form of the various words used by hinterland tribes — davoh (in Obo), dabu (Tagabawa Bagobo), and duhwow (in Guianga Bagobo) — all of which refer to the Davao River.[38] The terms originally described the silty river water's color,[39] and have cognates in various Philippine languages describing the colours "yellow" (as in dawa, "sulfur" in Bagobo;[40] or duao, "turmeric" in some Visayan languages[41]), or "brown" (as in duo-ao in Bagobo[39]). This name was eventually applied to the lowland settlement at this river's mouth, where the hinterland tribes went to engage in barter trade.[42] This town later became the capital of the district and, later, province to which it lent its name.

Dinagat Islands

  • dinagat, Cebuano for "of the sea,"[43] referring to the island on which most of the province is situated, or the town which was the first municipality established in the area.

Guimaras

  • Hispanicized corruption of himal-us,[44] 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.[5]

Ifugao

  • Hispanicized corruption of i-pugo, Ifugao for "of the hills"[45] or "of the earth,"[46] 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 i-lokong, Ilokano for "of the lowland," referring to the inhabitants of the narrow coastal plain along northwest coast of Luzon.[47] This term stands in contrast to another common ethnonym, i-golot ("of the mountains"), which describes inhabitants of the highland areas of northern Luzon.[47] Yloco was the early Hispanic rendering of this term,[5] 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.[48] The name originally only applied to the town (now city) of Iloilo (rendered in Spanish orthography as Yloylo or Yloilo),[5] 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."[49]

Kalinga

  • kalingga, a word meaning "enemy" used by many Cagayan Valley tribes (such as the Gaddang and Ibanag) to refer to any enemy tribe. Rendered in early Spanish accounts as Calingas[50] and in American accounts as Caylingas,[51] the ethnonym became most associated with the people inhabiting the highlands along the Little Cagayan River (Río Chico de Cagayan).[52] Despite being an exonym —a name given to the ethnic group by outsiders[53]— the sub-province where they comprised the majority was named Kalinga upon its establishment in 1907. The present spelling is derived from the native word's rendering in accordance with Filipino orthography.

La Union

  • la unión, Spanish for "the union," referring to the merging of towns from southern Ilocos Sur and northwestern Pangasinan that resulted in the creation of the province in 1854.[54]

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").[55] 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.[56]

Leyte (and Southern Leyte)

Maguindanao

  • Hispanicized rendering of magindanaw, Maguindanaon for "that which has suffered inundation,"[60] 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

  • Some early accounts record the name of the province's main island as Masbat.[63] This may be based on masibát, a native word for "abundant with lances,"[64] perhaps in reference to the island's well-armed inhabitants; or on masabat, Bikol for "to meet along the way,"[65] alluding to the strategic position of the town (now city) that bears the name, as well as the island named after it, within old Philippine maritime trade routes.
  • Other early accounts record the name of the island as Masbad,[66] which may be based on masibad. In Bikol, this word means "to pass through from end to end,"[67] thereby alluding to the island's elongated shape; in Waray-Waray, this word means "devourer," alluding to the island's crocodile-infested rivers.[68]

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 during the early Spanish colonial period.[69] The term minolo may possibly be related to minuro, an old Visayan term meaning "settlement."[70] Minolo was located on the northern coast of the island, facing Luzon, and is presently a sitio in the municipality of Puerto Galera, which formerly served as the capital of Mindoro Province.[69][71][72] Documents written in Tagalog as late as the 18th century still referred to the island as Minolo.[73] 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,[69] despite the fact that no major gold-mining industry existed or exists in the island.[70][74]

Misamis (Occidental and Oriental)

  • The undivided province of Misamis was named after its former capital, the town of Misamis (now Ozamiz City). The word misamis itself is of obscure origin, but originally only referred to the strategic piece of flat land (Misamis Point) guarding the entrance into Panguil Bay on which the Spanish military established a stone fort in 1756.[75] The settlement which grew around the fort also took the name Misamis. When the Spanish-era military district that covered the Christianized northern shores of Mindanao Island was created in the 18th century, it was administered initially from this town, and the district was therefore also named Misamis, even after the capital was transferred later to the more centrally-located Cagayan.[76]
  • Folk etymologies explaining the origin of the name include: 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;[77] and kuyamis, Subanon for a variety of sweet coconut that used to be the food staple of the natives.[78]

Mountain Province

Negros (Occidental and Oriental)

  • negros, Spanish for "blacks," referring to the dark-skinned Negritos that inhabited the island which was then known as Buglas.[80]

Nueva Ecija

  • nueva Écija, Spanish for "new Écija", in honor of the hometown of province's first Spanish governor (Gov. Acuyar) in Andalusia, Spain.[81] 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.[85]

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.[86]

Quezon

  • Spanish surname. The province, formerly known as Tayabas (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 current 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[87] 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."[88]

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". Rizal was added to the family name by José Rizal's father, Francisco Mercado, upon moving from Biñan to Calamba,[89] although his application to have the name legally recognized was denied by the authorities.[90]

Romblon

  • Early Spanish accounts rendered the toponym as Donblon[5] in Spanish orthography, which is probably based on the native word lomlom, a term with cognates across many Philippine languages meaning "dark," or "shady,"[91] perhaps in reference to the once-thick forests of, or the clouds that constantly form over, 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[5]) an indigenous term formerly used to refer to the people that inhabited the island.[92] The name originally applied to the more populous western region of the island, but was eventually applied to the whole island and the military province that was established in 1841. Samal is a cognate of the Malay word samar which means "disguised," "dim," "vague," or "obscure."[93][94]

Sarangani

  • Hispanicized corruption of the Malay expression sarang(an) ini, meaning "this is our home," or literally, "this is our nest,"[95] referring to Sarangani Island. The name originally only applied to that island (which lends its name to the municipality of Sarangani, Davao Occidental), 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.[96]

(Zamboanga) Sibugay

  • sibugay, old Visayan term meaning "where there is sandy soil," from the rootword bugay[97] which means "sandy soil" or "loose earth." This is perhaps in reference to the shallows at the mouth of the river that now bears the name, which is known to run nearly dry during low tide.[98] The name — variously rendered in Spanish accounts as Sibuguei,[99] Sibuguey[100] and Sibuguy[101] — was also eventually applied to the fertile lands drained by the river, the bay to which the river empties, and the lands surrounding the bay. The province takes the second part of its name from this historic designation, but spelled in a manner reflecting the native pronunciation of the word.

Siquijor

  • Hispanicized form of the phrase si kihod, old Visayan for "where the tide is ebbing," the toponym for a settlement (now the provincial capital) on the north side of the island known in early Spanish accounts as Isla de Fuegos ("Island of Fires").[102] Siquijor eventually replaced Isla de Fuegos as the name of the island.

Sorsogon

  • Hispanicized form of sogsogon, Bikol adjective meaning "wadeable," derived from the root word sogsog, which means "to wade" or "to ford"; a wadeable river, for example, is known as salog na sogsogon.[103] The toponym originally referred to the settlement on the banks of the Salog River, which became the capital of the province upon its establishment in 1767.[103]

Sultan Kudarat

Sulu

Surigao (del Norte and del Sur)

Tarlac

  • Hispanicized rendering of tarlak, Aeta term for a certain grass related to talahib (cogon) and tanglar (Zambal for lemongrass).[111] The area around the current capital city (after which the province was named) was described as matarlak, an adjective meaning "abundant with tarlak grass."[112]

Tawi-Tawi

Zambales

  • Hispanicized plural form of sambalí or sambal, the name for the people who used to form the dominant ethnic group in the west-central coast of Luzon. The ethnonym, recorded in early Spanish accounts as los Çambales,[5] was eventually applied to the land they occupy, and the mountain range that separates them from the Central Luzon plain. The first term is possibly derived from the native word for "a group of houses" (with the rootword balí meaning "house"), while the second term is an old Tagalog word for a "crossing or conjunction of rivers."[117]

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. Just like the practice in naming many other provinces, the undivided province of Zamboanga was named after its capital.[118] Some persisting erroneous folk etymologies for the name of Zamboanga include jambangan (Malay for "place of flowers") or sampaga (for "flower"),[119] both of which cannot be linked linguistically to the current form of the name.[120] 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.[121][122]

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