Singapore MerlionSingapore Merlion


So you’ve decided to visit this island nation known as Singapore, and have heard pretty good things about it. If you stick around long enough, you might hear and see abbreviations (and which Singaporean doesn’t love abbreviations?) such as S’pore, Sg and Singers. But Singapore has been known by many other names – and understanding them will give you an exciting glimpse into this country’s heritage. 
Majestic lion
Singapore itself is an anglicised version of the word Singapura, a Malay word meaning Lion City and derived from Sanskrit. Singa is the Malay version of the Sanskrit simha, which means lion, and pura is of Sanskrit origin and means city or town. The name owes its origin to the Singaporean legend that a Sumatran prince, Sang Nila Utama, founded this Lion City when he saw what he thought was a lion on the shores of the island – although we know today that it was probably a tiger, given that lions have never been found in Singapore. Still, the lion iconography has embedded itself in Singapore culture and manifests itself in symbols like the Merlion and the Singapore football team the Lions, as well as numerous insignia and phrases. 
Smaller islands of Singapore

Before the prince Sang Nila Utama arrived in Singapore, however, the main settlement on Singapore was called Temasek, which means Sea Town in Old Javanese. The name Temasek is a part of Singapore’s national identity, with many large organisations and even national honours bearing the name. Around the same time, the Yuan Dynasty in Singapore referred to the island as Longyamen, which means Dragon’s Teeth Gate.

An even earlier written record of Singapore dates back to the second century, with references in Greek astronomical texts by Claudius to a place he called Sabana, where Singapore is situated. This suggests Singapore has long been an important trading post, and was part of the ancient marine Silk Road. 

Japanese occupation of Singapore - museum exhibition

Perhaps one of Singapore’s lesser-known names is Pulau Ujong, which refers to the main Singapore Island in Malay. Pulau is the Malay word for island, and ujong means end. This refers to the fact that Singapore is at the end of the Malay Peninsula – the end island, right after the mainland of the Asian continent ends.

One of the more poetic names given to Singapore was bestowed during a dark period in the island’s history. While the Empire of Japan occupied Singapore from 1942 to 1945 during the Second World War, the island was called Syonan-to. The name means Light of the South, and reveals the importance that the Japanese placed on Singapore. The name fell out of use once the Japanese forces left Singapore.