In 2015, Steve Harvey became entangled in a double whammy: Apart from announcing the wrong winner in that year’s Miss Universe pageant, he also mistakenly addressed our delegate as “Miss Philippians,” pushing him further to the center of Internet ridicule.
But for anyone who ever worked in a call center and took calls from irate Americans, this is anything but unusual. In reality, some people from all over the world who are clueless about world geography assume Philippines is the land of the Philippians.
After all, Italians live in Italy and Australians are the people of Australia. So why can’t we call them Philippians or Philippinos? The Philippines as we know it was nonexistent in the pre-colonial era.
Our ancestors had no sense of nationhood yet. Instead, they were divided into different chiefdoms, each of which had its own leaders and laws.
Everything changed when the Spanish colonizers arrived. Ferdinand Magellan was the first one to lay claim to the islands, which he referred to as “San Lazaro,” before dying at the hands of Lapu-Lapu’s fierce warriors.
Many years later, Miguel López de Legazpi finally succeeded in putting the islands under the Spanish crown, christening it Las Islas Filipinas, after their King Felipe II.
Since Philip is the English counterpart of Felipe, several names for the country appeared in various sources from the 16th and 17th centuries. Among these are Philipinas, Philippinas and Piliphinas.
When control over the colony shifted from Spain to the U.S. in the late 19th century, the country was officially called the Philippine Islands. Sometime during the post-war era, they finally got rid of the “Islands,” which then gave birth to the Philippines, a name that remains unchanged.
However, the US couldn’t come up with a name to call the inhabitants of their new colony, now called the Philippine Islands. For some reason, they found “Philippian” or “Philippinian” unsuitable, so they ended up adopting the Spanish-era term Filipino.
The 1973 Constitution paved the way for the adoption of “Filipino” as the national language. In contrast with its predecessor, this language would now include foreign-sounding letters, such as “F,” as well as loanwords.
The change was formally applied through the 1987 Constitution. From the “abakada” alphabet, they now have the enriched version which includes “foreign” letters (i.e. not part of the original baybayin) like x, z, c, f, v and j among others.