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May 21st
Home Sections History The Origin of “Sorsogon” as the Provincial Name Is a Mere Myth
The Origin of “Sorsogon” as the Provincial Name Is a Mere Myth PDF Print E-mail
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Sections - History
Written by Bobby M. Reyes   
Wednesday, 05 October 2011 13:00



Should the People of Sorsogon Rename their Province to its Pre-Hispanic Name of “Ibalon”?


By Lolo Bobby M. Reyes of Sorsogon City and West Covina, California


When asked by the Spaniards in 1569 the name of the place, people allegedly answered ‘Sosogon mo ining salog’ (Follow this river), thinking that the visitors wanted to know how to get to the village of what is now Sorsogon City. Thus, the Spaniards thought wrongly that the name was ‘Sosogon.’ – Traditional version of how Sorsogon was named.


W hile growing up and studying elementary up to high school in then Sorsogon capitol town of Sorsogon Province, all our history teachers repeated the same version of how it was named. Thus it is common to read now, even online, this traditional version: “The name of the place was once spelled as 'Solsogon' if you look at old Spanish maps. The name literally means 'to trace a river upstream'. The name of Sorsogon City has been spelled differently in various occasions during its history. The Spanish explorers got lost upon the discovery of the territory until they reached what is now called Sorsogon Bay. They asked the locals the name of the place and the locals mistook the question as asking for directions. Thus they were told 'sorsogon' or 'solsogon', which meant trace your way following the river upstream, which eventually became the name of the town.” –


I wrote sometime in 1961 a manuscript when I was practicing for an essay-writing contest my version of how our province and the capitol town were named. This was part of the training handled by my writing coach, our then-English teacher, Mrs. Maria Jamoralin, as related in this article:

How “Oragon” Probably Came to Mean the “Very-best” Among Bicolnons




My 1961 Dissenting Opinion


B ut I never got to publicize my draft of an essay about the naming of Sorsogon. And I forgot all about it. After all, as a growing lad, nobody would listen to my version, which totally disputed the words of the so-called experts on Sorsogon history.

Actually after wracking my brain's built-in "memory chips," I remember my mentors on Sorsogon history, Tio Puencar Decano and/or his uncle, Tio Zacarias Decano, telling me in 1959 and 1960 that there was no way the first Spaniards (that landed in what has become Magallanes town of now Sorsogon Province) could not understand what the local people were saying. For according to the Decanos, their ancestors told them that the Spaniards had Cebuano and Waray interpreters with them. So the story about mistaking "Sosogon" as the name of the place was a big lie. (This portion was inserted on Jan. 15, 2013.)


Yesterday, being Teacher’s Day, I remembered Mrs. Maria Jamoralin and all my teachers in elementary, high school and college. In fact, I cited some of them in my writings, per the URLs mentioned at the end of this article. I also recalled my take of Sorsogon history.


Here’s my 1961 version of how my home province and my home town were named. In the first place, geography does not support the traditional version. Why? If by all accepted accounts the Spaniards first landed in the island of Luzon sometime in 1569 in what was then Gibalon (which is now part of the town of Magallanes), it was impossible for them to ask the location of the village of what is now Sorsogon City. For Magallanes sits at the western side of the mouth of what is now Sorsogon Bay. Sorsogon City is located further inside the Bay (southeast portion). So, how could the Spaniards ask for the direction to what is now Sorsogon City when Sorsogon town was founded only in 1866 (or 297 years after their 1569 landing in Gibalon)? Besides, Gibalon has its own river, one of 34 river tributaries of Sorsogon Bay.


Vladimir E. Estocado, a serious student of history in Gubat town of Sorsogon province, has posted his research in several Facebook groups, part of which follows: “Sorsogon was once a part of Albay, which also included the province of Masbate. The early towns established here were: Gibalon in 1570 (now sitio of Magallanes); Casiguran -1600; Bulusan – 1631; Pilar – 1635; Donsol – 1668; Bacon – 1764; Juban and Matnog - 1800; Bulan - 1801; Castilla – 1827; Magallanes – 1860; Sorsogon – 1866 and Irosin – 1880. The province was eventually separated from Albay on October 17, 1894, and adopted the name Sorsogon. The town of Sorsogon was also selected as its capital.”


Here are the towns fronting Sorsogon Bay (and the year of its township): Casiguran (1600), Pilar (1635), Juban (1800), Castilla (1827), Magallanes (1860) and Sorsogon (1866).


It would be “elementary, Mr. Watson,” for the Spaniards to seek first the pre-Hispanic village of Casiguran, as the people then worshipped their god called “Gugurang.” Even now, Sorsoganons and Bicolnons call the Christian God the Father as “Kagurangnan.” Since the Spaniards believed then that in the place of worship they would find treasures such as gold as offering to the people’s god or gods. The town of what is now Casiguran lies in front of what is now Sorsogon City – across the span of Sorsogon Bay.

Writer's Note: It was probably  Puencar Decano &/or Zacarias Decano of Magallanes town who told me in 1959 about the Sorsoganon god called "Gugurang." I could not remember their full names until friends from Magallanes pitched in during our dialogues in the "My Magallanes" Facebook Group just in late 2012.


Lolo Bobby’s Version of How “Sorsogon” Was Coined


In 1961 and even now, I am inclined to believe that “Sorsogon” was derived from the word, “Sorog-on,” which is the local term for a servant. Since more Spanish settlers (like the Berenguers, the Garcias, the De Veras, the Ballesteroses, the Olbeses and others) chose to reside in what is now Sorsogon City, it was the logical place to establish their seat of civil service. Remember the Spanish adage, “Poder es servir?” Yes, power means service. Government means having a system of and for public service. Nowadays, bureaucracy is the euphemism of that system.


Probably the Spaniards chose to call the capitol as “Sorsogon,” after having learned that “Sorog-on” is the name for servant. After all, government officials are THE public servants, right?


But in this 21st century, when hundreds of thousands of Filipinos are employed as often-abused “domestic servants” in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, perhaps Sorsoganons may like to rename their province. Perhaps they may opt to choose “Ibalon,” the pre-Hispanic name of all of Sorsogon Province and the southern part of Albay Province.


After all, the Cambodians chose to go back to the original name of their country, Kampuchea. The Burmese chose to rename their nation after the pre-British name, Myanmar. If countries could do it, why not a Philippine province?


Perhaps it is time to go back to our province’s pre-Hispanic name before wise guys call Sorsogon as the “land of domestic servants” and “dishonest public servants,” verdad? # # #


P. S. Here are some of the articles written by the author in which he cites the lessons he has learned from his teachers:


How Sorsogon Can Be the Botanical (and Natural-product Medicine) Capital of the Philippines, If Not of Southeast Asia




The Term “Caucasian” Is a Historical Aberration


URL: # # #

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 January 2013 00:35
Comments (1)
1 Friday, 02 March 2012 18:09
I make it a point to take note of historical and scientific studies of place names principally to help me in making more than a wild stab at my own hometown, Butuan City. Butuan has a powerful connection with Sorosogon, by the way. One of its most prominent and once most wealthy and powerful family, the Aquinos, came from Sorsogon.

The first recorded mention of Butuan is in the Sung Shi (Sung history) during the dynasty that covers the years 960-1126. Historiographer William Henry Scott states in Prehispanic Source Materials for the Study of Philippine History, revised ed., 1984, the word Butuan is recorded in an 11th century material. It's spelled "Pu-duan" reflecting how the Chinese tongue is able to enunciate the word.

There is nothing in the story that will shed light on what the word meant or signify. A reference to how the Chinese regarded the persons coming from Pu-duan will tend to negate the notion propounded by modern storytellers that Butuan meant buo-tan, good or kind or good-natured.

All explanations for Butuan are based on imagination, supposition, invention. Not one cites any recorded evidence, source, authority. One explanation is phallological--boto an-- implying a respectable male weaponry. It's the most popular and accepted tale. Another is bat-wan, a fruit very popular in the Iloilo-speaking region and used in souring cookery.

I despair we will ever find a scientific or historical study to explain the name. In the face of this, whatever captures the whim and caprice of my hometown's citizens will be the dominant view; however bereft it is of any solid basis.

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