Why is Filipino Spelled with an ‘F’ when the Philippines is Spelled with a ‘Ph’?

The Mactan Fight

When people look at the name Filipino, it can become confusing because it is spelled with “F” and not with a “Ph” like the Philippines is. Like me, they may wonder why Filipino is not spelled as “Philipino.”

The word Filipino is spelled with an “F” instead of a “Ph” as it has to go back when the Spanish came to the Philippines. When the Spanish arrived on the Philippine Island, they named this group or archipelago islands Islas Filipinas. The use of the term Filipino is leftover from the time when the Spanish called the island Filipinas.

Filipino With An “F”

Sometimes when I’m writing the word Filipino, it can become confusing why the name Filipino has an “f” and not a “Ph” as the word the Philippines. Like me, many people get confused and even spell the word wrong.

The word Filipino is spelled with an “F” because it’s derived from the Spanish name for the Philippine islands, Las Islas Filipinas.

This spelling of the word Filipino comes from when the Spanish ruled and conquered the Phillippines; when you travel to Manila, one thing that stands out is the old Spanish Fort known as Fort Santiago.

The Spanish built the Spanish Fort Santiago in 1593. Today, it stands as a reminder to everyone that Spain controlled the Philippine nation for about 400 years.

Philippines And Spaniards

The Philippines has a long history with the Spaniards, so it would only be natural that the Spanish would influence some of the names and spelling as the word Filipinos. The spelling of the name Filipino is one English word the Spanish explorers influenced.

Magellan, a Portuguese, served for the Spanish Crown to look for a Westward route from the Spice Islands of Indonesia and then back to Spain. At the time, many sailors believed the world was flat and they could not sail around the world.

On March 16. 1521 Magellan landed on Hononhom Island of the Philippines. Magellan was the first European to reach the Philippines islands.

Rajah Humabon of Cebu became friendly with Magellan and quickly embraced Christianity. Lapu-Lapu, an enemy of Rajah, refused to embrace Magellan or Christianity and saw him and his fleet of Spanish ships as a threat. Rajah wanted Magellan to kill Lapu-Lapu, but Magellan refused and instead wanted to try to convert Lapu-Lapu to Christianity.

Magallan’s attempts to try to convert Lapu-Lapu to Christianity failed. Magellan eventually died at the hand of a native army led by Lapu-Lapu.

The loss of Magallan was a massive loss to this Spanish fleet of ships; they had lost their Captain and leader. Of the five ships and 300 men who left in 1519 from Spain with the Magellan expedition, only one ship and 18 men returned home to Spain in 1522.

Magellan is credited with discovering the Phillippine islands and giving the Philippines its first name – San Lazaro.

Despite the tremendous loss of life, the Magellan expedition was considered a massive success because it showed the world that the earth was round; the journey could circle the globe without falling off into a bottomless dark pit.

Spain celebrated the success of the circling of the globe; King Charles I decided that Spain should conquer the Philippine Islands. Spain sent five more expeditions to conquer the Philippines. Still, it was not until the last expedition in 1564 by Miguel Lopez that was Spain was successful in colonizing and conquering the Philippine Islands.

Ruy Lopez de Villalobos, and the failed Spanish expedition of 1542, is credited for naming the Philippines island its name today. Villalobos landed for a short time on the Mindanao island but left due to insufficient food supply; the Portuguese eventually captured him.

Villalobos is credited as the person who named the Phliuppine “Islas Filipinas” after the then Prince Philip of Spain Prince Philip later became King of Spain.

The name King Philip in Spanish was Felipe, or the Spanish version of Philip. The name Filipinas was derived from his name. It is also why today, the name of the people of the Philippines is Filipino and not “Philipino.” The Philippines still uses a Spanish form of their name as Filipino.

In English, the name of the “Islas Filipinas” was translated into English as “the Philippines Islands” or the islands of Philip. This is also why when I write the word the Philippines many times, I want to write it with two LL as “Phillip” and not Philip.

Since the name Philip is also the English name of Felipe, throughout history, there have been several names or variations of the Philippines used from Philipinas, Philippinas, and Piliphinas. This could be that those who came to the Philippines heard the name and never saw the name written down, so they phonetically spelled it.

Americans And The Name Filipino

In the late 19th century, after the Spanish-American war, the Americans gained control over the island nation of the Philippines; for about forty years, the Philippines was an American colony.

When the Americans took over the Philippines, they wanted to come up with an English name to call the inhabitants of the Philippines. After all, people who live in America are American, those in Italy are Italian, and Sweden is Swedes.

The Americans did not think the term Philippian or Philippinian was suitable. For some reason, we do not know they decided to adopt the Spanish word and call those people living on the Philippines’ island Filipino.

The confusion with this name does not stop there. In the 1930s, when the Philippines saw that soon they could have independence, they decided they needed to change the term back to Pilipino. Their reasoning was in the native Filipino language; there was no letter “F” used.

For a while, the Filipino people were Pilipino. It was the 1973 Philippine Constitution that paved the way for foreign letters to be used; letters such as “X, Z, C, F, and J” could now be used. So once again, the people of the Phillippines officially became Filipino.

That is why a country that is spelled with a “Ph” like the Philippines has Filipino people; we have the Spaniards and Americans to thank for this language confusion.

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Anita L Hummel

Hi, I live in Hanoi, Vietnam but spend time traveling the region. I love to share with you things I see and learn through my travels.

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Why is Filipino spelled with an 'F' when the Philippines is spelled with a 'Ph'?