A Short History Behind the Name of Every Metro Manila City

What’s in a name?

Metro Manila is home to 16 cities and over 13 million people. It’s the fifth most populous urban area in the world, and currently the center of the country’s culture, politics, and economy. But before it became a sprawling metropolis, Metro Manila once encompassed farmlands and small countryside villages back in its early beginnings. And the roots of the 16 cities, and one municipality, are still evident in the names they hold today.


The name of the land-locked city is said to be derived from the Tagalog root wordlo-ok,", which means “bay,” in reference to the city's proximity to the bay. But many also believe that the name is a play on the word "kasuluk-sulokan" (or kaloob-looban), which means "innermost area." The name was Hispanicized to Caloocan, but some locals colloquially spell it as Kalookan.

Las Piñas

The current name is Spanish for “The Pineapples,” and the common belief is that farmers from Cavite and Batangas used the city as a trading spot for their pineapple products. However, records show that, for a time in the early 1800s, the city was called “Las Peñas,” which means “The Rocks.”


Contrary to popular belief, Makati’s name does not refer to being in a state of itchiness. It actually comes from “kumakati,” which is Tagalog for “ebbing tide.” The story goes, when Miguel Lopez de Legazpi asked a Tagalog what the name of the area was, the Tagalog, who couldn’t understand Spanish, pointed to Pasig River and said, “Makati, kumakati na.”



The name of the city is believed to be a compressed version of “maraming labong,” referring to the abundance of bamboo shoots in the region prior to urbanization.


There are a lot of origin stories when it comes to Mandaluyong’s name. A romantic origin story says that the city was named by two forbidden lovers, Luyong and Manda, who ran away together and settled on the land now known as Mandaluyong. Another story claims that the city was named after the abundance of luyong trees. But a more probable story is that, when Spanish explorers asked the locals the name of the area, they said the place was “madaluyong,” which means “undulating or big waves from the sea,” referring to the rolling hills of the land.

The Rizal Monument in Manila.


The local pronunciation of Manila as “Maynila” hints at the city name’s origins. “May-nila” is translated to “where indigo is found,” referring to the plant species from which you can extract natural indigo dye. Nila is the Sanskrit word for indigo, hinting at the travel and exploration of Asians prior to colonization.

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There are a number of legends on Marikina’s origins, but historical documents of the city of Marikina show that the town was called Marikit-na in 1787. This falls in line with the old wives tale that goes as follows: When a Spanish Jesuit priest asked a Filipino laborer what the building they were constructing would be called, the Filipino didn’t understand what he was saying in Spanish, and simple described the building, “Marikit na po,” meaning “It’s beautiful.” A historian also once claimed that the city was named after Captain Berenguer de Marquina, a colonial official. Marquina also happens to be the ancestor of Jose W. Diokno and Chel Diokno.


Like many places in the Philippines, it’s said that the city was named after its topography, and Muntinlupa is said to refer to mountain land. One story claims that “munting lupa,” which means “small land,” was originally used to name the city. 

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Navotas is derived from the Tagalog word “nabutas,” which refers to the natural shift in the area’s geography as the years went by. The city rests on an area with multiple river deltas, and one legend claims that the land was all connected at some point in time, until one day, when the strip of land between Manila and Navotas gave way to the sea, and water spilled out from the river to the ocean. So, the locals referred to the area as “nabutas.”  


The accepted historical account is that the name of the city is an adapted version of the name “Palanyag,” which was once the name of the Parañaque River. But a more entertaining story recounts how a Filipino coachman was driving around Spaniards on a horse-drawn coach. When the Spaniards asked him to stop, saying “Para aqui, para aqui,” which meant “Stop there, stop there,” the Filipino couldn’t understand them and kept going, but the phrase stuck.



Before it was renamed Pineda, the old name of Pasay, the city was said to be named after Dayang-dayang Pasay, a princess of the ancient kingdom of Namayan. A more romantic origin story claims that the city was named after the tragic love story of Paz and Jose. After the two were forbidden to be with each other, Paz died from loneliness, and Jose cried "Paz-ay!" at her funeral.


A number of stories surround Pasig’s name’s origin story, but all revolve around water. The most convincing theory is that the city was named after “pasig,” which is a Sanskrit word for “waterway coming from one body of water to another,” referring to the Pasig River. One theory suggests that the city name came from the Sanskrit word “pasega,” which means sand, while another story suggests it came from the Tagalog word “mabagsik,” referring to the Pasig River’s strong “terrifying” current. 


The lone municipality in Metro Manila, Pateros is said to be named after its duck industry as "pateros" is Spanish for "duck-raisers." It could also be linked to the word "sapatero," or "shoemaker," which is another main industry of the area.

The Quezon Memorial Shrine.


It doesn’t take a genius to figure this one out. Quezon City was named after former president Manuel Quezon while he was in office in 1939. Quezon never signed the bill, but it passed into law after the efforts by the National Assembly of the Philippines. Quezon City’s Aurora Boulevard is also named after Quezon’s widow, Aurora Quezon. The couple also each have a province named after them.

San Juan

As its name suggests, the city is named after Saint John the Baptist, only the original full name of the city is San Juan del Monte, referring to the hilly topography of the area. There are number of locations in the Philippines dedicated to the saint in Laguna, Batangas, and Bulacan.


Taguig is bordered by Laguna de Bay to its east, so it’s no surprise the origin of its name is connected to the farmer-fishermen in the area. They were called “mga taga-giik,” or “rice threshers” in Tagalog, but the Spanish couldn’t pronounce the Tagalog word. So the phrase was shortened to Taguig, which is what the city goes by now.


Before it was called Valenzuela, the area was known as Polo and derived from the Tagalog word “pulo,” which means island. The landlocked city is surrounded by rivers, making it seem like it was an island. The city was eventually renamed to Valenzuela in honor of the Filipino doctor and revolutionary leader Pio Valenzuela y Alejandrino of the Katipunan society.


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