Before yesterday, the only story I had heard about how Lipa City got its name was this silly folklore about two Spanish conquistadores who heeded the call of nature behind a shrub then had the utter misfortune to wipe themselves with leaves from the same shrub.
The leaves, they failed to notice, had tiny hairs in them that caused irritation to the skin. A native – and I will leave it to you, the reader, to go figure why a native would find two white people defecating so interesting as to actually watch – saw what happened and started shouting, “Lipa! Lipa!”
We will assume that, if at all, the two Spaniards were squatting close to the ground and therefore must have reached for an herbaceous leaf of the genus laportea belonging to the plant family urticaceae or nettles.
Locally, the plant is known as “lipang aso” or the dog lipa plant. The story has always been, of course, folkloric.1
Yesterday, while mining for topics to write about at the Museo de Lipa, I chanced upon two alternative stories that I had not heard before. Both of these, it goes without saying, are also folkloric.
One version appears to implicitly infer that the name was derived from the fact that ancestors of the city’s inhabitants were always on the move; or, in Tagalog, lipat ng lipat.
There is, at least, historical basis to the frequent relocation if not for the derivation of the name. The original settlement founded in 1605 by these ancestors was along the shores of Taal Lake in what is now the village of Tagbakin on the outer fringes of the city’s present day boundaries.
The first relocation was in 1724 to what is now known as Lumang Lipa, a village part of the Municipality of Mataas-na-Kahoy. The second relocation to present-day Balete in 1754 was a consequence of a volcanic eruption. The ancestors stayed for only two years before moving farther inland to present-day Lipa as a precaution against further eruptions.2
The other version has been published in a coffee table book about Lipa; albeit it is as folkloric as the others.
It says that an image of St. Sebastian, the patron of the Tagbakin settlement after whom the settlement was also named, had gone missing. The inhabitants went to search for it and subsequently found it near a lipa tree.
This was interpreted as a sign that the patron wanted the entire settlement to relocate to where the tree was. The new settlement, which presumably was the one in Lumang Lipa, was also named Lipa.3
This is, of course, a more presentable story than the defecating Spaniards ever will be; albeit, all my contemporaries will likely be more familiar with the latter more than this one. In other words, even as folklore, this third version is really quite obscure.
Just to wrap up, remember that this last version mentions the image of St. Sebastian being found near a lipa tree instead of a shrub. In that case, the tree is also a nettle native to Taiwan and the Philippines distinguished by hairs on its twigs.
With the scientific name dendrocnide meyeniana, the nettle tree is known in Tagalog as lipang kalabaw (carabao lipa).4
Notes and References:1 Laportea, Wikipedia
2 Lipa City, Wikipedia
3 Lipa City Coffee Table Book
4 Dendrocnide meyeniana, Wikipedia