Etymology 1[edit]

From mer- +‎ lion; sense 1 promoted by the Singapore Tourism Board as the name of a statue installed at the mouth of the Singapore River on 15 September 1972.

Alternative forms[edit]

  • (national symbol of Singapore): Merlion



merlion (plural merlions)

  1. (Singapore) Often Merlion: a symbolic creature having the head of a lion and the body of a fish, which is a national symbol of Singapore; an image, statue, or other depiction of this creature. [from 1970s]
    • 2002, Can-Seng Ooi, Cultural Tourism and Tourism Cultures: The Business of Mediating Experiences in Copenhagen and Singapore, Copenhagen: Copenhagen Business School Press, →ISBN, pages 109–110:

      In 1995, a second Merlion was built on the island of Sentosa. This new Merlion is actually a 37-metre high panoramic tower, from which it is possible to view mainland Singapore and the Straits of Singapore []. A new “ancient legend” was created for this creature with this tower. The legend alleged that the Merlion landed on Sentosa and saved Singapore from a storm. It would save Singapore again if the island ran into trouble (according to a film in the Merlion Tower). [] Some locals are upset by this fabrication. The STB [Singapore Tourism Board] maintains that the Merlion reflects the combination of Singapore’s national animal (the lion) and Singapore being an island. Many Singaporeans have come to accept this mythical creature as a quintessential symbol of Singapore. To the unaware tourists, the product was packaged in a convincing manner, with the legend, film clip, and chronotopic dimensions of when and where the Merlion supposedly visited Singapore.
    • 2005, Neil Humphreys, chapter 11, in Notes from an Even Smaller Island: Singapore through a Young Brit’s Eyes, Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, →ISBN, page 174:

      Like Changi Airport or the Merlion, Singlish is something that is quintessentially Singaporean. It is a dialect that everyone speaks and understands and is something that could provide the cornerstone for a unifying cultural identity.

    • 2015, Neil Humphreys, chapter 9, in Marina Bay Sins, Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, →ISBN:

      Yeah, well, he went into a tourist shop, not the one with postcards and plastic Merlions. That one ah, the one in here for the towkays and businessmen for conference centres. They sell gold-plated Merlions, Eiffel Towers and Empire State Buildings, you know.

    • 2015, Wong Yoon Wah; Jeremy Tiang, transl., “Metamorphosis: Temasek”, in Gwee Li Sui with Tan Chee Lay, Sa’eda bte Buang, and Azhagiya Pandiyan, editors, Singathology: 50 New Works by Celebrated Singaporean Writers, volume I (Life), Singapore: National Arts Council; Marshall Cavendish Editions, →ISBN, stanza 1 (Temasek):

      And in the fourteenth century / Because of Nila Utama’s river mouth encounter with a merlion / The Lion City surged into being / And its people could travel the wide world
    • 2016, Karen Harper, chapter 1, in Chasing Shadows (A South Shore Novel), Don Mills, Ont.: Harlequin MIRA, →ISBN:

      At his favorite, familiar hotel on busy Orchard Road, he paid his fare, hefted his small bag and walked past the gorgeous garden with flowers and a fountain. Under the spray of water was a statue of the so-called merlion, the mythical beast that was the symbol of the tourist industry here. Its top half was a lion and the bottom half a fish. A couple of years ago, when he’d taken a stuffed merlion home to Lexi, she’d insisted on calling it Lion King Little Mermaid from her two favorite Disney movies at that time.

  2. A fictional creature of similar make-up.
    • 2000, Alan Dean Foster, A Triumph of Souls, New York, N.Y.: Aspect/Warner Books, →ISBN:

      There were night penguins that emitted green light only when hunting in dark seas, and merlions whose manes were fringed with pallid lavender.

Etymology 2[edit]

Probably a variant of merlin,[1] from Middle English merlinge, marlyon, merlion, merlone, merlyon, from Old French emerillon, esmerillon, from Frankish *smiril (falcon, hawk), from Proto-Germanic *smirilaz (falcon, merlin).



merlion (plural merlions)

  1. (heraldry) A depiction of a bird similar to a house martin or swallow with stylized feet; a martlet. [from late 15th c.]
    • 1666, John Guillim, “Section VI, Chapter I”, in A Display of Herauldry: [], 6th edition, London: [] John Williams [], and Joshua Kirton []; Humphrey Tuckey [], and Francis Tyton [], OCLC 839318022, page 384:

      He beareth two coats quarterly, with an Inſcocheon of pretence, viz. The firſt, per bend nebulee, Or and Sable, a Lion Rampant counterchained, by the name of Sympſon; The ſecond, Argent, a Feſſe, Gules, between three Merlions, or Sparhawks, Sable, beaks and legs, Or, by the name of Oneſlow; []

    • [1884, Bernard Burke, “Dictionary of Terms Used in Heraldry”, in The General Armory of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales; [], 2nd edition, London: Harrison & Sons, [], OCLC 220048201, page xli:

      Martlet, or merlion, a fabulous bird, of constant adoption in armorials, shaped like a martin or swallow, and always drawn without legs, with short tufts of feathers instead, divided into two parts, somewhat like an erasure, and forming, as it were, thighs. This is the distinctive mark of the fourth son.]

  2. (rare) Alternative form of merlin (a small falcon, Falco columbarius).
    • [c. 1381–1382, Geoffrey Chaucer, Parlement of Foules; republished as “The Assembly of Fowls”, in D[avid] Laing Purves, editor, The Canterbury Tales and Faerie Queene: With Other Poems of Chaucer and Spenser. [], Edinburgh: William P. Nimmo, 1874, OCLC 16857511, page 220, column 2:

      The gentle falcon, that with its feet distraineth / The kingës hand; the hardy sperhawke eke, / The quailës foe; the merlion that paineth / Himself full oft the larkë for to seek; […]]

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]


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