Names of Singapore

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Chinese name
Chinese 新加坡
Malay name
Malay Singapura
Tamil name
Tamil சிங்கப்பூர்
Republic of Singapore
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 新加坡共和國
Simplified Chinese 新加坡共和国
Malay name
Malay Republik Singapura
Tamil name
Tamil சிங்கப்பூர் குடியரசு
Ciṅkappūr Kuṭiyaracu

The names of Singapore include both historical designations and contemporary names and nicknames in various languages spoken on the island.

The English language name Singapore comes from the Malay Singapura, which is derived from Sanskrit.[1] Singa comes from the Sanskrit word siṃha (सिंह), which means "lion", and pura (पुर) means "town" in Sanskrit and is a common suffix in many Indian place names. The Sanskrit origin is due to the regional influence of Chola kings of India, who spoke Tamil, but preferred to use Sanskrit for royal and religious titles.[2]

Recent studies of Singapore, however, indicate that lions have never lived there, not even Asiatic lions; the beast seen by Singapore's 13th century founder, the Srivijayan Sang Nila Utama, was most likely a tiger, probably the Malayan tiger.[3][4]

Historical names[edit]

Early historical names[edit]

The first possible written records of Singapore date to the 2nd century, when the island was identified as a trading post in several cartographic references. The Greek astronomer, Claudius Ptolemaeus, located a place called Sabana in the area where Singapore lies.[5]

A 3rd century Chinese written record described the island of Púluōzhōng (蒲羅中), probably a transliteration of the Malay Pulau Ujong, "island at the end" (of the Malay peninsula).[6]

Mao Kun map from Wubei Zhi, which is based on the early 15th century navigation maps of Zheng He, showing Temasek (淡馬錫) at the top left, and Long Ya Men (龍牙門) on the right panel.

There is record that in 1320, the Mongol Yuan Dynasty sent a mission to obtain elephants from a place called Lóngyámén (龍牙門, literally Dragon's Teeth Gate), earlier known as Batu Berlayar in Malay, which is believed to be Keppel Harbour.[7] The Chinese traveller Wang Dayuan, visiting the island around 1330, described a small Malay settlement called Dànmǎxí (淡馬錫, from Malay Tamasik) containing a number of Chinese residents.

The Nagarakretagama, a Javanese epic poem written in 1365, also referred to a settlement on the island, which it called Temasek (Sea Town). This name of an early city on the site of modern Singapore and is still used by corporations and for national honours in Singapore.

Modern historical names[edit]

A number of names for Singapore were used by local Hokkien-speaking ethnic Chinese in early modern Singapore. In addition to the now standard Sin-ka-pho (新加坡), other names include Seng-ka-pho (星嘉坡 or 星加坡) and the derived short forms Seng-chiu (星洲; "Singapore Island") and Seng-kok (星國 "Singapore State").

Another name, Sit-la̍t (石叻) derived from the Malay word selat meaning "strait" (from Sit-la̍t-mn̂g [石叻門] another name for Longyamen)[8] and the derivatives or variants Sit-la̍t-po· (石叻埠), Si̍t-la̍t-po· (實叻埠), and La̍t-po· (叻埠) were also used.[9]

World War II[edit]

The Japanese renamed Singapore Shōnantō (昭南島?), from Japanese "Shōwa no jidai ni eta minami no shima" ("和の時代に得た"?), or "southern island obtained in the age of Shōwa", and occupied it until the British repossessed the island on 12 September 1945, a month after the Japanese surrender.[10] The name Shōnantō was, at the time, romanised as Syonan-to or Syonan, where the characters 昭南 literally translate to "Light of the South".

Contemporary names[edit]

Singaporean languages[edit]


In written Chinese characters, the country's official name, "Republic of Singapore" is rendered as 新加坡共和国 in simplified Chinese and 新加坡共和國 in traditional Chinese. The full name of Singapore in different varieties of Chinese is:

  • Mandarin: Xīnjiāpō Gònghéguó
  • Hokkien: Sin-ka-pho Kiōng-hô-kok
  • Cantonese: Sāngabō Gùngwòhgwok
  • Hakka: Sîn-kâ-phô Khiung-fò-koet
  • Hokchiu: Sĭng-gă-pŏ̤ Gê̤ṳng-huò-guók

A nickname for the city is Shīchéng (Mandarin)/Sai-siâⁿ (Hokkien) (狮城), literally "Lion City." Modern historical names are retained as poetic or shorthand names for the island or country and include Xīngzhōu/Seng-chiu (星洲) and Xīngguó/Seng-kok (星國). Xīng, literally "star," is used as a homophone for the first syllable of "Singapore." Zhōu is a term for "island" while guó means "country" or "state." Xīngzhōu is used in names such as the Sin Chew Jit Poh (星洲日报), a newspaper in Singapore until the 1980s.


The official name of the country in Malay is Republik Singapura and the Malay name is used for the country's motto and its national anthem of the same name, "Majulah Singapura".


In Tamil, the country's name is Ciṅkappūr (சிங்கப்பூர்) and its official name is Ciṅkappūr Kuṭiyaracu (சிங்கப்பூர் குடியரசு, /siŋɡəppuːr kuɽijərəsɯ/).

Other languages[edit]

Nearly every language currently uses a name for Singapore derived from "Singapore" or "Singapura."


In the Khmer language, the country's name is Sernghakborey (សិង្ហបុរី) from the word សិង្ហ meaning "lion" and បុរី meaning "city". The official name of the country is ស឵ធ឵រណៈរដ្ឋសិង្ហបុរី, literally "Republic of Singapore". The French word "Singapour" is commonly spoken.


Vietnamese usually uses the word Singapore for the country (and Cộng hòa Singapore for "Republic of Singapore") but has traditionally used versions taken from the hán tự 新加坡, namely Tân Gia Pha or Tân Gia Ba (and Tân Gia Ba Cộng hòa quốc for "Republic of Singapore" [新加坡共和國]). It has also used such hán tự-derived names other for historical names including Chiêu Nam for Shōnan (昭南) and Hạ Châu.


Likewise, Korea formerly used a Hanja-derived name for Singapore, Singapa (신가파), but now uses Singgaporeu (싱가포르).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Singapore". Retrieved 14 April 2006. 
  2. ^ Sommerville, Maxwell (1894). The Encyclopaedia Britannica: a dictionary of arts, sciences, and general literature, 9:22. Adam and Charles Black, London, United Kingdom. p. 101. 
  3. ^ "Studying in Singapore". Search Singapore Pte Ltd. Retrieved 14 April 2006. 
  4. ^ "Sang Nila Utama Palembang" (PDF). 24hr Art. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 August 2006. Retrieved 14 April 2006. 
  5. ^ Hack, Karl. "Records of Ancient Links between India and Singapore". National Institute of Education, Singapore. Archived from the original on 26 April 2006. Retrieved 4 August 2006. 
  6. ^ "Singapore: History, Singapore 1994". Asian Studies @ University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved 7 July 2006. 
  7. ^ "Singapore: Relations with Malaysia". Community Television Foundation of South Florida. 10 January 2006. 
  8. ^ 石叻 at Baidu Baike. (Chinese)
  9. ^ The syllable La̍t (叻) was used as shorthand for Singapore in terms such as the Hokkien name for the Straits Settlements, La̍t-sū-kah (叻嶼呷) where (嶼) refers to Penang (Pin-nn̂g-sū 檳榔嶼) and kah (呷) to Malacca (Mâ-la̍k-kah 麻六呷). Po· (埠) means a quay, port, or city.
  10. ^ Ron Taylor. "Fall of Malaya and Singapore". Retrieved 10 July 2007. 

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