Philippine HiStory Today: What’s in a Name?
Hello! I have been reading a few books for the past few days and came across one by the famous British playwright Shakespeare. In his popular play Romeo and Juliet, he wrote ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’ Did you get his point? I confess I didn’t the first time I read it years and years ago… there’s just something not very friendly about the English of his time! But basically what he meant was this: Would changing your name make you a different person? What name would you give yourself if you were given the chance to change it?
While you think about that question, let us talk about the story of a name… a name that is very important to all of us Filipinos because it is what the world uses to call us. What do I mean? I mean the name ‘Philippines.’
The date is 2 February 1543, the day Spanish explorer Ruy López de Villalobos landed in the Philippines.
Sit back, think about your name, and listen:
The Spanish expedition
After the return of Magellan’s crew to Spain (if you can remember, Magellan was killed by Lapu-Lapu), his Majesty King Charles V of Spain decided to conquer Las Islas del Poniente or the Islands in the West. This is what they called the Philippines then; our country was still technically nameless.
After some negotiations with the king’s viceroy in Mexico, an expedition was set up which was led by Ruy López de Villalobos, the second European explorer to ever successfully lead an expedition to Las Islas del Poniente after Magellan.
Villalobos and his crew of 800 took six of Europe’s biggest galleons at the time and left Nueva España (Mexico) for Las Islas del Poniente 1 November 1542. Now that’s a pretty impressive armada if you ask me — all geared up and ready for a face-off with the natives of Las Islas del Poniente!
Three months after discovering many uninhabited islands and sailing through storms, the Villalobos expedition finally reached their goal: the land discovered by Magellan… the land that was to be theirs.
2 February 1543 — The Villalobos expedition dropped anchor at in a bay they called Malaga in the eastern coast of what is now Mindanao. He called this big island ‘Caesarea Karoli’ after his king Charles V of Spain. But this island was not their goal… they needed to get to Limasawa in what is now southern Leyte to resume the Magellan expedition’s mission. Their search was disrupted by a storm which forced them to Saranggani. Unfortunately for them, Saranggani was unfriendly territory.
The Portuguese had already gone there and forged a relationship with the locals. Villalobos and his group were forced to defend themselves and they successfully beat the natives. But not everything was going well for the crew. Hunger was already spreading among the group, forcing Villalobos to stay longer in Saranggani and try to grow corn.
The crew had more struggles as they stayed longer in Caesarea Karoli. Many natives were unfriendly to the expedition, but they managed to survive in hostile territory. Desperate for food, Villalobos ordered some members of the crew to look on ahead for Limasawa, the island that was said to be home to natives who were friendly to Spain. One successfully made it after days of visiting many islands and villages around Leyte and Samar: a crew led by Capitan Bernardo dela Torre. He named the group of islands he visited ‘Felipinas’ after Charles V’s successor Philipp II.
Las Islas Filipinas
By the second half of 1543, Villalobos was finally forced to leave Saranggani after hearing of his crew’s success in finding Limasawa. He split his crew into different groups to waylay any group, be it native or Portuguese, who will try to attack them. By the first half of 1544, more than a year after leaving Nueva España, Villalobos finally reached Leyte and Samar islands which he named ‘Las Islas Filipinas’ or the Philippine Islands in honour of Philip II, Prince of Spain.
Two names in just a year! Which one do you like better, Felipinas or Las Islas Filipinas? Whatever your choice may be, both are after the name of a member of Spain’s royal house. We know we cannot change that fact as much as we cannot change the fact that Villalobos died ‘of a broken heart’ (a term the Portuguese used for a type of tropical fever) in Portuguese-held Moluccas in today’s Indonesia that same year. But don’t you think it would have been better if we started out with a name that was truly ours, and not some variation of a Spanish royal’s name? I do! I have some names in mind, but let us set my opinion aside and look at what history has offered by way of alternative…
Names for the Philippines
Today, our country officially goes by the name Philippines or Pilipinas in the Filipino language. This is short for The Philippine Islands, which is the English translation for the Spanish name Las Islas Filipinas given to us by Villalobos 400 years ago.
But here are some fun facts you may never have known until now. Did you know that we had names before Villalobos came and christened us with a Spanish name? First we were called Ma-i by the people of China’s Song Dynasty, 1225AD. Liu-sung was how the Chinese referred to our current Luzon.
Moroccan explorer Ibn Baṭūṭah meanwhile called the islands Tawalisi, around the time he met Pangasinan mythical Princess Urduja. This chapter of the history of the name of the Philippines is a bit iffy because 1) many historians did not believe the fabled kingdom of Tawalisi really exsisted and 2) they could not consolidate the facts in Ibn Baṭūṭah’s journal.
After the names Las islas de San Lázaro and Las islas de Poniente circulated around the time of Magellan. Jose Rizal gave a name that stuck but is not official, Pearl of the Orient or Pearl of the Orient Seas. He wrote this in his Mi ultimo adios and is also sang in our Lupang Hinirang. It was during the American Commonwealth Era that The Philippine Islands was made official.
There were plenty of other proposed names for the Philippines generously suggested by many people through history. What do you think about ‘Haring Bayang Katagalugan?’ This was what Andres Bonifacio suggested, but I say it’s pretty biased for the Tagalogs! Around the time of the Katipunan the name ‘Kapatiran’ also surfaced. What do you think about that? Or how about ‘Luzviminda?’ Yes, this woman’s name was suggested to be fair to Filipinos from all over the country: LUZon, VIsayas and MINdanao. President Marcos gave his own suggestion, the controversial ‘Maharlika’ after the pre-Hispanic noble class of Filipinos. No? Would you consider ‘Rizalia’ then, a name proposed by revolutionary general Artemio Ricarte? Tell me which of these you prefer by commenting below! But to talk about more recent issues…
What’s in a Name
Last year, a name became the centre of media attention in the Philippines. The issue: should we call our country ‘Filipinas’ or ‘Pilipinas?’ Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) filed a resolution mid-2013 saying we should change the name of the country from the ‘P’ to the ‘F.’ The reason? The letter ‘Filipinas’ was the original term used by Villalobos. Supporters also said it would lead to easier teaching of pronunciations to Filipinos who somehow easily interchange the sound ‘f’ with the sound ‘p,’ leading many to say ‘pishbol’ instead of ‘fishball,’ ‘putbol’ instead of ‘football’ and so much more.
But then again, can you imagine saying ‘Unibersidad ng Filipinas’ or ‘Republika ng Filipinas?’ It’s very weird! For now though, the issue is at a stalemate as changing the name from ‘p’ to ‘f’ would need the passage of a law. Malacañang remains mum on the issue.
So, getting back to the question I asked at the beginning of this story… would you change your name if you had the chance to? There is an appeal to that power. A name is very important to any person. It is music to the ears. If someone calls us by any other name or fools around with our name, we will feel slighted or hurt and angry.
Would you tamper with your name if given the chance to? Names are very powerful… they can be used to call attention, to identify people, to boost or ruin reputations, to give assurance to a lover. But according to Shakespeare, Romeo can very well change his name if his name is stopping him from loving Juliet… changing his name won’t change who he is anyway!
What I mean to say is, yes, names are very important to us. But we are not our names. If we learn to grow out of the labels people use to call us, we can break boundaries and get to know ourselves more.
I have been Loy when I was a young kid. When I was a teen, kids joked around with my surname Manansala and they called me Mansanas. Oh, I really disliked that! Acquaintances from abroad call me Roger. My closest friends call me Roly, and I let you call me kuya Roly! My wife calls me honey… yes we are very sweet! My kids and grandkids call me lolo. If I let names like Mansanas hurt me, then I will only end up feeling bad. No matter what name they call me, I am still me, and you’ll still be you too.
So if you are discriminated on because of your name, because you are Filipino… then let them waste their efforts and don’t let it get to you. Let’s be proud of our name, and not allow anyone to change its meaning to hurt us.
Let me know what name you think is good if you were given the chance to change the name of our country. Leave your suggestions and thoughts about our date with history today by commenting below!