What Is The Nickname Of Singapore?


You’ve probably found yourself wondering, “What is the nickname of Singapore?” as you delve deeper into the rich history and vibrant culture of this renowned city-state. It’s a question that beckons to both locals and tourists alike, inviting them to explore the deeper narratives that surround Singapore.

The nickname of Singapore is “The Lion City.”

Singapore, a small yet thriving city-state in Southeast Asia, boasts a rich history and a diverse cultural background. The country’s unique past is reflected in the variety of names and nicknames it has been given over the years. In this article, we will explore some of these monikers, as well as the story behind them.

Key Takeaways

  • Singapore has several nicknames, such as “The Lion City” and “The Little Red Dot”.
  • The origin of these nicknames is rooted in the country’s rich history, legends, and geographical features.
  • These monikers serve as symbols of Singapore’s resilience, excellence, and unique cultural identity.

The origins of Singapore’s nicknames can be traced back to a combination of historical events, geographical features, and local legends. The most well-known nickname, “The Lion City”, finds its roots in an ancient tale depicting the sighting of a lion by a prince, who then named the island Singapura, meaning “Lion City” in Malay. Another popular moniker is “The Little Red Dot”, which refers to the country’s depiction on many maps as a small red dot and has since been embraced fondly by Singaporeans as a symbol of their resilience and excellence.

Today, Singapore’s nicknames continue to be used in various contexts, serving as symbols and reminders of the country’s fascinating history and persistent growth. From its humble beginnings as a fishing village to its current position as a global financial hub, Singapore’s story is one of transformation and triumph.

Tracing Back the Roots: The Many Names of Singapore

Singapore, a sovereign city-state in Southeast Asia, has a rich and diverse history that has led to it being known by various names throughout the centuries. Prior to the arrival of the British, the locals called it Singapura. This name is derived from the Malay word and is believed to have originated from the Sanskrit words siṃha, meaning “lion”, and pūra, meaning “city”. Thus, Singapura roughly translates to the “Lion City”.

In earlier times, before the arrival of Malays, the island was known as Temasek, yet another Sanskrit derived name. The word Temasek means “sea town” and refers to the ancient beginning of Singapore as a fishing village and trading centre. Temasek’s prominence as a strategic location in the region led to its growth and development into a regional centre of commerce and politics.

The history of Singapore as Singapura is chronicled in the Malay Annals, a prized literary work documenting the genealogy of Malay kings and their legends. According to these annals, a Sumatran prince named Sang Nila Utama discovered the island during a hunting expedition. Upon seeing a majestic creature he believed to be a lion, he renamed the island Singapura in honour of the encounter.


Today, Singapore has become a global powerhouse known for its financial and technological advancements. While its modern name remains rooted in its historical and cultural origins, its multi-ethnic and diverse society has transformed the island nation into a melting pot of traditions and beliefs. As Singapore continues to evolve and prosper, it upholds the legacy of Singapura and Temasek, and ensures that the many stories that gave birth to its rich history continue to be cherished and preserved.

The Journey from Temasek to Singapore: A Historical Perspective

The story of Singapore’s transformation starts in the 14th century when it was known as Temasek. At that time, the Singapore River served as a crucial trade artery, and the waterway at Singapore was the main route for vessels travelling between the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca. The island of Temasek, identified in the Mao Kun map of the Ming Dynasty, was a thriving maritime hub.

Fast forward to the early 19th century, Sir Stamford Raffles played a significant role in the development of modern Singapore. As a young British employeen of the East India Company, Raffles sought to establish a strategic and commercially advantageous base in the region. He first landed on Singapore’s shores in 1819 and soon recognized its potential due to its strategic location and natural harbour.

Through a treaty with the local Malay rulers, Raffles secured the rights to establish a trading post in Singapore. In 1824, Singapore officially became a British colony, and Raffles introduced a master plan to divide it into distinct ethnic areas. The influence of Raffles’s governance can still be witnessed today throughout the city.

Over time, Singapore continued evolving under the British Empire. However, it was during World War II that Singapore experienced significant political strife, leading to a brief period of Japanese occupation. Following the end of the war, the British regained control, and Singapore remained a crown colony within the newly established Federation of Malaya in 1948.


The road to independence was not easy, but in 1963, Singapore briefly joined the Federation of Malaysia as a part of the Malaysian states. This union, however, was short-lived, and due to political differences, Singapore eventually separated from Malaysia in 1965, leading to its emergence as an independent nation.

So, while the name “Temasek” may not be commonly used in today’s context, it serves as a reminder of Singapore’s rich history and journey that shaped it to be an economically strong, globally recognized, and culturally diverse city-state it is today.

The Story Behind “The Lion City”

Singapura: The Lion City and its Significance

The nickname ‘Lion City’ for Singapore traces back to its founding myth. The name Singapore is derived from the Sanskrit words ‘Simha’ or ‘Singa’, meaning lion, and ‘Pura’, meaning city or fortress. Legend has it that in 1299, a prince named Sang Nila Utama spotted an unusual animal, believed to be a lion, while visiting the island. As a result, he named the island Singapura, which translates to Lion City.

Pu Luo Chang: The End of the Island Explained

Prior to being named Singapura, the island was referred to as Pu Luo Chang in Chinese historical records. This name dates back to the 3rd century and is believed to mean “the end of the island”. As a key transit hub for trade routes, Singapore held an important strategic position, connecting the southern part of the South China Sea with the Indian Ocean.

Temasek: The Earlier Identity

Before its transformation into the Lion City, Singapore was known as Temasek, which means “sea town” or “sea port” in Javanese. This name indicates Singapore’s maritime roots, as the island played a significant role in regional trading during the 14th century. Although the name Temasek is not widely used today, its significance remains embedded in Singapore’s history and culture.


Syonan-to: The Light of the South Unveiled

During World War II, Singapore was occupied by the Japanese and renamed Syonan-to, which means “Light of the South” or “radiance of the South”. Since then, the island has reclaimed the Lion City nickname, symbolizing a period of resilience, rebirth, and progression. Today, the moniker ‘Lion City’ serves to acknowledge Singapore’s historical narrative, and embraces its multicultural and enduring nature.

Etymology and Historical Names

Temasek and Singapura

The history of Singapore can be traced back to its earliest names, which were “Temasek” and “Singapura.” Temasek, derived from the Malay word for lake, “Tasek,” was used to describe the island in the 13th century. This old Javanese name translates to “Sea Town,” reflecting the island’s location in Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, “Singapura” was another historical name for the island which means “Lion City.”

Sanskrit Influence and Proto-Indo-European Roots

The name “Singapura” stems from Sanskrit, an ancient language closely associated with Indian civilization. The word “Singapura” is a combination of “Simha” or “Singa,” meaning lion, and “Pura,” meaning city or fortress. This etymology indicates the connection between Singapore and the rich cultural history of the region, particularly in relation to the influence of Sanskrit and Proto-Indo-European roots on the language and the island’s development.

Malay Annals and Sejarah Melayu

The Malay Annals, or “Sejarah Melayu,” is a crucial historical text that documents the genealogy, history, and legends of the Malay Sultanate of Singapore. Within this invaluable source, the name “Singapura” is mentioned, and its etymology is reinforced. The term’s use in the annals further solidifies the importance of understanding the historical context to appreciate Singapore’s place in Southeast Asian history.

Modern Nicknames and their Origins

In contemporary times, Singapore is often referred to as the “Lion City” or the “Little Red Dot.” These modern nicknames are derived from the historical names and legends surrounding the island nation. The nickname “Lion City” alludes directly to the ancient name “Singapura,” while the “Little Red Dot” represents Singapore’s small size and global presence. By considering these etymological and historical elements, we gain a deeper understanding of Singapore’s unique position in both regional and international spheres.

Exploring the Nicknames

Singapore, a diverse and prosperous nation, is known by various nicknames that reflect its unique characteristics and evolution. These names include “The Little Red Dot”, “The Lion City”, “City-State”, and “Garden City”.

The Little Red Dot

Due to its small landmass, Singapore is often represented as a tiny red dot on world maps. Despite its small size, the country has made a significant impact on the global stage, establishing itself as a commercial hub, technological powerhouse and a model of urban development.

The Lion City

The nickname “The Lion City” is derived from the name “Singapura”, which means “lion city” in Malay. According to Singaporean legends, the founder of modern Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles, had given the city this name due to its symbolic meaning.


Singapore is also known as a city-state as it encompasses both a city and a country within its borders. As a sovereign nation with thriving urban areas, this nickname emphasizes Singapore’s unique political and geographic structure. This enables the nation to showcase its progressive society where cultural diversity, technological advances, and economic growth coexist.

Garden City

Lastly, Singapore is commonly referred to as the “Garden City” due to its lush greenery and commitment to environmental sustainability. The country has integrated nature into its urban planning, ensuring that parks, gardens, and green spaces are present throughout the city. The Garden City nickname encapsulates Singapore’s dedication to creating a harmonious balance between urban development and environmental conservation.

Modern Usage and Variations

In this section, we discuss the various nicknames and modern adaptations of Singapore’s name in different languages, particularly focusing on Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, Malay, and Javanese variations.

Mandarin Nicknames

In Mandarin Chinese, Singapore is referred to as 新加坡 (Xīnjiāpō), which is a direct phonetic translation of the English name, Singapore. While there are no specific nicknames in Mandarin, this term is widely recognized and accepted by Chinese speakers globally.

Cantonese and Hokkien Nicknames

Cantonese and Hokkien speakers refer to Singapore as 星加坡 (Sing1gaa1bo1) and 新加坡 (Sin-ka-pho) respectively. Similar to the Mandarin name, these terms are direct phonetic translations of the English name. However, among Cantonese and Hokkien speakers, Singapore is also known as the Lion City (狮城, Sī-siâⁿ) or the Little Red Dot.

Malay and Javanese Names

In Malay, one of the more dominant languages of Singapore, it is called Singapura, which translates to Lion City, stemming from the Sanskrit words ‘Singa’ (lion) and ‘Pura’ (city). This name has historical roots as it was given to the city by its founder, Sir Stamford Raffles. Javanese, a language closely related to Malay, also refers to Singapore as Singapura, sharing the same meaning and etymology.

In summary, the modern usage and variations of Singapore’s name, in different languages, are phonetic translations that remain true to its original name and meaning. The nicknames, such as the Lion City and Little Red Dot, highlight the unique and symbolic identity of Singapore.

Significance and Interpretations

Singapore, often referred to as the “Lion City” or “Little Red Dot,” derives its nicknames from its rich history and cultural background. The name “Lion City” traces back to Singapura, which means “Lion City” in Malay. This name symbolises resilience and progress as the city-state transformed from a humble fishing village into a global hub of commerce, innovation, and multiculturalism.

The Merlion, a half-lion and half-fish mythical creature, serves as the national symbol of Singapore. The lion head portion represents the “Lion City,” while the fish body signifies the city’s origin as a humble fishing village. This iconic creature embodies Singapore’s unique blend of heritage and modernity, reflecting the city’s ability to adapt and grow over time.

A major factor behind Singapore’s success is its multicultural society, consisting of Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Eurasian communities. This diverse populace infuses the nation with a rich tapestry of traditions, cultures, and languages which, in turn, contribute to its social harmony and global appeal. The multicultural aspect of Singapore strengthens its pride, as the city-state stands as a shining example of harmonious coexistence.

In addition to its cultural diversity, Singapore has become a crucial economic partner for many countries around the world. The city-state’s pro-business environment and well-developed infrastructure have attracted global companies to set up their operations there. Furthermore, Singapore’s strategic location as a maritime hub has made it an essential player in global trade, with its state-of-the-art port facilities and connections to key shipping routes.

Overall, the nickname “Lion City” captures the essence of Singapore’s transformative journey as well as its core attributes, including resilience, pride, and progress. The story behind this nickname serves as a reminder of the city’s humble beginnings and its unwavering commitment to growth and development, whilst celebrating its multicultural society, thriving commerce, and world-class infrastructure.

Contemporary References

Singapore is a small island nation known for its diverse culture, innovative economy, and strategic location. It has earned various nicknames, with some of the most popular being “The Lion City”, “Garden City”, and “Little Red Dot”. These contemporary references reflect different facets of Singapore’s identity, cultural heritage, and aspirations.

“The Lion City” is a widely used nickname for Singapore, as it was once called Singapura, which translates to “Lion City” in Malay. This name was given by Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore. The nickname symbolises the country’s transformation from a humble fishing village to a global centre for commerce, innovation, and multiculturalism.

“Garden City” is another nickname for Singapore, highlighting its abundance of parks and tree-lined streets. The government has taken a proactive approach to urban planning and development, incorporating greenery into the infrastructure to create a harmonious blend of nature and modernity. This provides residents and visitors with beautiful public spaces, such as the impressive Gardens by the Bay and the natural wonders of Sentosa Island.

The “Little Red Dot” is an informal reference to Singapore, which emerged following an article in The Straits Times that mentioned Indonesian President B. J. Habibie’s description of the country as a red dot on a map. Despite its small size, Singapore has achieved impressive growth in various industries, such as banking and transport, playing a key role in the region’s economic development.

Singapore’s history, which includes events like World War II and the brief Japanese Occupation when it was named “Syonan-to”, has shaped the nation’s unique identity. Today, Singapore continues to embrace its multiculturalism and showcase its rich history through its languages, including Singlish, a local creole that blends English with Malay, Chinese, and Tamil languages.

Through these evocative nicknames and references, Singapore’s rich cultural tapestry, history, and economic achievements are encapsulated, presenting a nation that is small in size but mighty in its aspirations and accomplishments.

Singapore’s Monikers and National Symbols

Singapore is often referred to as the “Lion City” or “Little Red Dot”. The nickname “Lion City” is derived from the Malay name “Singapura”, which means “Lion City”. This name is steeped in history and reflects Singapore’s strong cultural roots. On the other hand, the “Little Red Dot” moniker comes from its geographic appearance on the world map, showcasing the small yet vibrant nation.

Apart from these nicknames, Singapore has several national symbols that represent its identity and values. The National Flag comprises two horizontal stripes – red represents “universal brotherhood and equality of man”, while white signifies “pervading and everlasting purity and virtue”. The Singapore Arms and State Crest embody the nation’s declaration of independence and its sovereign identity.

Another well-known symbol is the Lion Head, a distinctive emblem that promotes a sense of national identity. It can be used by individuals, organisations, and corporations without the formality associated with the National Flag and State Crest. In addition to these, the national flower of Singapore is the Vanda Miss Joaquim orchid, symbolising the country’s natural beauty and resilience.

Overall, Singapore’s nicknames and national symbols not only evoke a sense of pride in its citizens, but also serve to showcase the nation’s unique identity, values, and history to the world.

The Singaporean Flag: A Symbol of Unity

The Singaporean flag is a powerful symbol of unity and national pride. Designed with a purposeful combination of elements, it encapsulates the values, goals, and aspirations of the young and diverse nation. The flag is central to Singapore’s identity and encourages a sense of belonging among its citizens.

Composed of a horizontal bicolour of red above white, the flag’s design holds significant meaning. The red symbolises universal brotherhood and equality, while the white represents pervasive purity and virtue. These colours reflect the unity among the nation’s multi-ethnic population and the shared commitment to justice and fairness.

In the upper-left quadrant of the flag lies the white crescent moon, which signifies a rising, young nation on the ascent. This element further reinforces Singapore’s collective progress and determination to achieve success. The crescent moon is accompanied by a pentagon of five small white five-pointed stars, symbolising the nation’s ideals of democracy, peace, progress, justice, and equality.

As Singapore continues to develop in the global arena, it is essential for citizens to acknowledge and appreciate the relevance of their national flag. This symbol serves as a reminder that unity and brotherhood remain integral to the nation’s success, and fosters a collective sense of identity and pride. By cherishing the values embodied by the flag, Singaporeans reinforce their commitment to work together towards a brighter and more prosperous future.

In summary, the Singaporean flag is not just a piece of cloth or a symbol of nationality. It is an emblem of the shared values, aspirations, and ideals of this diverse nation, and an everlasting reminder of the unity among its people.

The National Flower of Singapore: A Blossom of Identity

Singapore, known for its lush greenery and rich biodiversity, is often referred to as the Garden City. It is only fitting that this vibrant nation is represented by a unique national flower: the Vanda Miss Joaquim. This orchid, also known scientifically as Papilionanthe Miss Joaquim, has been the official national flower since 15 April 1981.

The Vanda Miss Joaquim was chosen from a selection of 40 flowers, 30 of which were orchids. The variety “Agnes” was specifically selected for its striking colours, resilience, and hardiness, symbolic of the spirited nature of the people of Singapore.

The origins of this beautiful orchid are attributed to a horticulturalist named Agnes Joaquim who discovered it in her garden in 1893. It is commonly believed that the orchid was a natural hybrid, found within a bamboo plant on her property. The unique qualities and captivating appearance of this flower made it an ideal choice for representing the nation.

Today, the Vanda Miss Joaquim continues to be a symbol of national identity and pride, reflecting the vibrant colours and spirit of the Garden City, Singapore. Its presence in various national events and occasions is a testament to the important role it plays in the collective sense of belonging and unity among Singaporeans.

The National Animal of Singapore: Symbolizing the Nation’s Spirit

The national animal of Singapore is the Asiatic lion, known scientifically as Panthera leo persica. Singapore, often referred to as the Lion City, has a deep connection with the lion that dates back to its founding. The name “Singapore” is derived from the Malay words “Singa,” which means lion, and “Pura,” meaning city. This association with the lion is an integral aspect of the nation’s history and identity.

The Lion Head symbol is widely used to represent Singapore’s culture and values. It signifies courage, strength, and excellence, and features a red lion head against a white background, mirroring the colours of the national flag. Further emphasizing the connection to the nation’s ideals, the lion’s mane has five partings that represent democracy, peace, progress, justice, and equality, reflecting the same five ideals symbolized by the five stars on the national flag.

It is interesting to note that despite lacking a population of actual lions, Singapore’s chosen national animal is the Asiatic lion, symbolizing its spirit and character. Although lions themselves may not roam the lands of Singapore, the fearsome creature is still proudly displayed in numerous public spaces, from statues to emblems, always reminding Singaporeans of their rich heritage and unyielding spirit.

In a nutshell, the national animal of Singapore, the Asiatic lion, holds immense significance in Singaporean culture. As a symbol of strength and resilience, the lion represents the country’s journey, progress, and aspirations. The Lion Head symbol, with its distinct features and colours, also showcases the shared values and identity of Singaporeans, proudly bringing the nation’s spirit to life.


Singapore’s nickname, ‘The Lion City’, has its roots in the nation’s history and symbolism. The name is derived from the Malay word “Singapura”, which itself comes from the Sanskrit term “Siṃhapura”, meaning “lion city”. This moniker represents the city-state’s journey from a humble fishing village to the thriving economic hub and cultural melting pot it is today.

The Lion City is not only a testament to Singapore’s rich past but also a symbol of its aspirations for progress and innovation. Despite its small size and geographical limitations, Singapore has overcome numerous challenges and successfully emerged as a global centre for commerce, innovation, and multiculturalism. This transformation is reflected in the city’s powerful nickname, contributing to a strong national identity and pride among its citizens.

In conclusion, the nickname ‘The Lion City’ embodies the essence of Singapore: its unique history, resilience, cultural diversity, and ambitious vision for the future. As a powerful symbol, it unites the city’s people and reminds them of their collective achievements and aspirations.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does the Lion City represent in Singapore?

The Lion City represents the origin of Singapore’s name. It is based on the Malay name “Singapura,” which translates to Lion City.

What is the origin of Singapore’s nickname?

Singapore’s nickname is derived from its old Malay name, Singapura, which means Lion City.

How did Singapore earn the name Lion City?

Singapore earned the name Lion City due to its origins as Singapura, a name given by a 13th-century Sumatran prince after he reportedly saw a lion on the island.

Is there a story behind Singapore being called the Lion City?

Yes, there is a story behind Singapore being called the Lion City. According to legend, a Sumatran prince arrived at the island in the 13th century and encountered a lion. He viewed this sighting as an auspicious sign and named the island Singapura, which means Lion City in Malay.

What historical event led to Singapore’s nickname?

The historical event leading to Singapore’s nickname is the encounter of a lion on the island by a Sumatran prince in the 13th century, which inspired the name Singapura, meaning Lion City.

Are there any other nicknames for Singapore?

Yes, Singapore is also commonly referred to as the “Little Red Dot,” which alludes to the nation’s small size on the map.

What did Singapore use to be called?

Before it was known as Singapore, the island was called Temasek, which translates to “Sea Town” in old Javanese.

What did the Japanese rename Singapore to?

During World War II, when the Japanese occupied Singapore, they renamed it to Syonan-to, which means “Light of the South.”

What was the ancient Chinese name for Singapore?

The ancient Chinese name for Singapore was Pu Luo Chung, a transcription of the Malay name Pulau Ujong, which means “Island at the End.”

What was Singapore called when it was part of Malaysia?

When Singapore was part of Malaysia, it was known as Singapore, the same name it uses today. However, its status changed from a British colony to a state within the Federation of Malaysia in 1963.

When was Temasek changed to Singapore?

Temasek was changed to Singapore in the 13th century when the island was visited by a Sumatran prince who named it Singapura after encountering a lion. The modern name, Singapore, is an anglicised version of Singapura.

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Get the Best Of Singapore delivered to your inbox.

shaan waterboat house

Shaan Nicol

Join a Kiwi expat who's navigated Singapore since 1992 on a journey through the city's hidden gems and vibrant culture at bestofsingapore.co. From the best chili crab spots to innovative architecture, discover what makes Singapore a global hub through the eyes of both a local and an outsider.

Leave a Comment

Table of Contents
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents