The Merlion was first used in Singapore as the logo for the tourism board. Its name combines "mer", meaning the sea, and "lion". The fish body represents Singapore's origin as a fishing village when it was called Temasek, which means "sea town" in Javanese. The lion head represents Singapore's original name—Singapura—meaning "lion city" or "kota singa".
The symbol was designed by Alec Fraser-Brunner, a member of the Souvenir Committee and curator of the Van Kleef Aquarium, for the logo of the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) in use from 26 March 1964 to 1997 and has been its trademarked symbol since 20 July 1966. Although the STB changed their logo in 1997, the STB Act continues to protect the Merlion symbol. Approval must be received from STB before it can be used. The Merlion frequently appears on STB-approved souvenirs.
The completion of the Esplanade Bridge in 1997 blocked the views of the Merlion from the Marina Bay waterfront. By then, the original Merlion location was also no longer the entrance of Singapore River due to land reclamation works. In response, the statue and its cub were relocated 120 metres to the current Merlion Park that fronts Marina Bay in 2002, where it stands on a newly reclaimed promontory in front of the Fullerton Hotel.
The unprecedented relocation took two days, from 23 to 25 April 2002. A carefully engineered journey required one barge, two DEMAG AC1600S cranes of 5000 tonnes lifting capacity, plus a team of 20 engineers and workers on site. The entire statue was hoisted onto the barge, which then sailed to the new installation site at the current Merlion Park, near the mouth of Singapore River. During the voyage, the statue had to be hoisted from the barge, over the Esplanade Bridge and then back onto the barge, as it was too tall to pass underneath.
Exactly 30 years after he officially unveiled the Merlion, then-Senior MinisterLee Kuan Yew returned on 15 September 2002 to ceremonially welcome the statue again, this time in its new home. A viewing deck now stretches over the Singapore River, allowing visitors to pose for a photograph with a front or side view of the Merlion, including a new city skyline backdrop in the picture. The sculpture was aligned to face East, a direction advised to be most auspicious. Relocated, the statue once more spouted water from its mouth, having stopped in its old location since 1998 due to a water pump malfunction. The Merlion now has a new two-unit water pump system with units working alternatively, so a backup is always on standby. The relocation and new site (four times larger than the original) cost S$7.5 million.
Maintenance of original statue
From 5 June till 10 July 2006, the Merlion at Merlion Park underwent maintenance. The last one was right after its relocation. Dirt and stains were removed using high-pressure water streams, and various wear and tear of the statue was mended.
During that period, visitors were greeted with illustratedhoardings and canvases covering the safety nets and scaffolding. The illustrations were designed by Miel, an award-winning senior artist at The Straits Times. The illustration on the canvases made them look like shower curtains, with the Merlion sticking its head out with the shadow of its tail behind the curtain. The illustration on the hoardings showed the Merlion scrubbing himself with a brush and showering using a Merlion shower head spouting water. The Merlion said, "EXCUSE ME while I take a shower..." in a speech bubble.
The Merlion on Sentosa was designed and sculpted by an Australian Artist named James Martin. It is made of Glass Reinforced Cement (GRC) over a steel armature that is attached to the centre.
On Saturday, 28 February 2009, at about 4:26 pm, the Merlion in the Merlion Park was struck by lightning. A breaking news from 938NOW local radio showed an image with fragments from the Merlion's head on the ground.
Examination of the damage was done quickly with wooden scaffolding set up on Sunday, 1 March 2009 for workers to take a closer look at the hole. The incident happened as a result of the lack of lightning protection on the Merlion itself.
Within Singapore, there are six Merlion statues in Singapore which are approved by the STB.
The smaller two-metre-tall statue standing behind the original statue weighed 3 ton and was commonly referred to as the "Merlion cub". It was inlaid with Chinese porcelain plates and bowls as part of its design.
The three-metre-tall glazed polymarble statue at Tourism Court (near Grange Road) completed in 1995
The three-metre-tall polymarble statue placed on Mount Faber's Faber Point
A pair of Merlion statues were constructed by the Ang Mo Kio Residential Committee in 1999. They are sitting at the entrance of the car park along Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1.
One of the previously approved statues, a 37-metre-tall gigantic replica at Sentosa, with Mouth Gallery Viewing Deck on the ninth storey, another viewing gallery on its head and Sentosa Merlion Shop, and capable of shining laser beams from its eyes, was closed on 20 October 2019. The area around the statue would be replaced by a S$90 million Sentosa Sensoryscape project targeted to be completed by 2022.
In the 2021 animated movie My Hero Academia: World Heroes' Mission, a Singaporean hero with a design clearly based on the Merlion is seen. His quirk (superpower) allows him to spit high-pressure water from his mouth, just like the main Merlion statue. His name is Big Red Dot, a reference to Singapore's nickname of Little red dot.
The Merlion statue also made a brief appearance in the 2006 romantic action film Krrish.
In TV series
The Merlion (Japanese: マーライオン) appeared in the influential anime Cowboy Bebop (episodes 18 and 24), where its appearance in an ancient home movie offers Singaporean amnesiac bounty hunter Faye Valentine a clue to her true origins.
The Merlion featured heavily in Hajime Satō's (佐藤 肇, Satō Hajime) re-imagining of Shinjuku in the 2005 anime, Karas.
The Merlion appears when the lady landlord is searching for an apartment key in Episode 10 of Hidamari Sketch X: "Hoshimittsu".
The Merlion was used in an exclamation by Kyoko Toshino in episode 8 of YuruYuri in response to seeing Chizuru Ikeda drooling.
Together with the Little Mermaid of Denmark and Manneken Pis of Belgium, the Singapore Merlion is ranked in Japan as the 'Three Major Disappointments of the World'. This meme was played out in episode 6 of the anime series A Place Further Than The Universe, when two of the characters expressed to their chagrin that the Merlion was not as disappointing as they thought.
In Phineas and Ferb's "Summer Belongs To You!", The Merlion was seen when the gang was bouncing around the world in a large rubber ball.
In the anime Beelzebub, Tatsuya Himekawa had merlion decorations in his house
The Merlion and its supposed history are explained in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders in episode 7 of the series in which the main characters travel to Singapore. Also in Stardust Crusaders, there is a supporting character named Anne Merlai (Japanese: マーライ・アン), named after the Merlion, though only her given name “Anne” is mentioned.
On TLC reality series Cake Boss, a cake was made in the shape of The Merlion to commemorate Singapore's 50th Anniversary, incorporating flavors that are typically used in Singaporean desserts.
The Merlion can be bought as a cash item and be used as a mount in Ragnarok 2: Advent of Valkyrie.
The Merlion is also featured in one of the Alien Egg miracle cards of the English version of Animal Kaiser.
Merlion Virtual Airlines, virtually based in Singapore, is a virtual airline focusing on the free flight simulator, FlightGear, which uses the Merlion as its logo.
A kart based on the Merlion, known as the Roaring Racer, was added to Mario Kart Tour during the game's Singapore Tour event in January 2022. The original Merlion statue also cameos on the Singapore Speedway track, which debuted during the same event and was later added to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe as part of paid downloadable content. In addition, a Roaring Racer Mii Racing Suit based on the Merlion was introduced in the Winter Tour event for Mario Kart Tour in January 2023.
Edwin Thumboo cemented the iconic status of the Merlion as a personification of Singapore with his poem "Ulysses by the Merlion" in 1979. Due to Thumboo's status as Singapore's unofficial poet laureate and the nationalistic mythmaking qualities of his poetry, future generations of Singaporean poets have struggled with the symbol of the Merlion, frequently taking an ironical, critical, or even hostile stand – and pointing out its artificiality and the refusal of ordinary Singaporeans to accept a tourist attraction as their national icon. The poem "attracted considerable attention among subsequent poets, who have all felt obliged to write their own Merlion (or anti-Merlion) poems, illustrating their anxiety of influence, as well as the continuing local fascination with the dialectic between a public and a private role for poets, which Thumboo (as Yeats before him, in the Irish context) has wanted to sustain as a fruitful rather than a tense relation between the personal and the public." Among the poems of this nature are "Merlign" by Alvin Pang and "Love Song for a Merlion" by Vernon Chan. More recent poems include "Merlion: Strike One" by Koh Buck Song in the 2009 anthology, Reflecting on the Merlion.
Merlions as a species were fictional characters in Gwee Li Sui's Myth of the Stone (1993), the first full-length graphic novel published in Singapore. They were depicted as calm and wise creatures that fought on the side of good and eventually overcame the dreaded Kraken. Gwee further popularised the iconoclastic image of the spitting Merlion in the early 1990s. It reappeared later with his well-loved poem "Propitiations" in his book of poems Who Wants to Buy a Book of Poems? (1998).
As mascots and performance characters
For the inaugural Singapore 2010 Summer Youth Olympics, a pair of mascots, Lyo and Merly, were introduced. Merly is a "Merlion-ess cub" based on the Merlion. Her hair is inspired by the lion top half, while her fish half is represented in light-blue scales on her body. Unlike the actual merlion, she has hands and legs instead of a tailfin.
The 37m-tall Sentosa Merlion appeared in the Magical Sentosa show, awakening at the last scene of the show and shining two laser beams out of its eyes at the audience. (Similar to the storyline of the Songs of the Sea show.)
The popular Instagram plushie MerRyan is a merlion.
In local parlance
Singaporeans often substitute the term "Merlion" in lieu of vomiting, in reference of the constant gushing of water from the Merlion's mouth.
A small Merlion, complete with a plaque giving information about the original statues, forms part of the decoration in the "Mystic East" area of British theme park Chessington World of Adventures.
The Merlion was featured– or, depending on the point of view, not featured– during the 2005 Venice Biennale in the controversial work Mike by artist Lim Tzay Chuen. He had proposed taking the sculpture in the Merlion Park to the Singapore Pavilion at the exhibition, but was refused by the STB. STB offered to install of a life sized replica of the Merlion at the Singapore Pavilion at the Venice Biennale which was rejected by Lim.
Analysis of the mythology and meaning of the Merlion from the perspective of country branding in: Koh, Buck Song (2011). Brand Singapore: How Nation Branding Built Asia's Leading Global City. Marshall Cavendish, Singapore. ISBN978-981-4328-15-9.