Singapore at a Glance

Early Names

Across the history of the Southeast Asian region, Singapore has been referred to by a variety of names, such as “Puluozhong”, “Temasek” and “Singapura”. The last of these is the Malay origins for the modern name of Singapore.


A Chinese historical account of Singapore in the 3rd century refers to the island as Puluozhong. It is derived from the Malay words “pulau ujong”, which means "island at the end of the peninsula”.


In 1365, Singapore was called Temasek in the epic poem “Javanese Nagarakretagama”. Temasek means “sea town” in Malay. The poem is recognised today as the most important piece of literature ever written during the Majapahit era.

Chinese trader Wang Dayuan, who visited Singapore around 1330, wrote the earliest first-hand account of the island’s history, referring to Singapore as “Danmaxi”, a Mandarin version of “Temasek”. 


Of all the historical accounts, the “Sejarah Melayu” or “Malay Annals” paints the most captivating picture of how Singapore came to have its present name.

Legend has it that Sang Nila Utama, then the ruler of Palembang (the capital city of the ancient kingdom of Srivijaya, a large part of which is presently known as Malaysia and Indonesia), made an unexpected landing in Temasek.

While seeking shelter from the storm, he sighted an animal on the island that appeared to be a lion. He declared the island’s new name to be “Singapura”, which means “lion city” in Malay. It replaced Temasek as the common name for the island by the end of the 14th century.

It was because of this ruler’s keen foresight that Singapore was later established as a trading post and settlement, due to its naturally strategic location along the Malacca Straits.

For more on Singapore’s history, check out the NUS bibliography.

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