The area of Vigan was originally a settlement of traders coming from the Fujian Province, China. At the time of Spanish colonisation, the Chinese settlers, whose language was Southern Fujianese (Min Nan, often referred to as “Hokkien” by most Filipinos), referred to the area as “Bee Gan” (美岸 ; Mandarin pinyin: Měi Àn), which means “Beautiful Shore.” Since the Castillian and Basque Spanish conquistadors interchanged V and the B to refer to the B sound, they spelled the Hokkien Chinese name “Bee Gan” (美岸) as “Vigan”, which is the name used to this day.
Vigan’s Chinese heritage is still evident from the numerous elite Chinese creole families who come from the area, many of whom adopted Hispanic family names. Others, such as the Sy-Quia family, have retained Chinese-derived surnames, though most, if not all, of the Christian Chinese creole families fully Hispanicised themselves culturally.
The most commonly known source of the city’s name is from the Biga’a plant, which once grew abundantly along the banks of the Meztiso River, from which captain Juan de Salcedo derived the city’s name (after a misunderstanding with the locals, thinking he was asking the name of the plants).
The city’s full name at the time of its Spanish foundation was “Villa Fernandina”, or “Town of Ferdinand”, in honour of Prince Ferdinand, the firstborn son of King Philip II of Spain. As the city grew, and the seat of the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia transferred to Vigan, it was later re-named “Ciudad Fernandina de Vigan” (“Ferdinand’s City of Vigan”).