Among the first towns of Pampanga in Central Luzon is called Arayat, but the origin of the term is shrouded in mist. Some say the word derives from dayat or dayatan, which in the local language means irrigation of rice lands during the dry season. Only later did Arayat appear in speech.
Others believe the town’s name came from another native word — arayat— meaning “to the east” where the place is located with its beautiful mountain called Bunduk Alaya or eastern mountain. The term Arayat both as a settlement and a mountain emerged from the term alaya when the Spaniards first came to the Philippines in the 16th century. Mt. Arayat became a popular and majestic landmark also called Mt. Sinukuan after a Kapampangan legendary god by the name of Aring Sinukuan. Another version of legends about the mountain ascribes its name to the enchanted goddess Mariang Sinukuan. A more specific account from historians traces the town’s origin to the existence of a Spanish encomendero by the name of Fernando de Arayat, who came from a certain Arayat village in Spain and eventually settled in the town. Thus, the town and the mountain were both named after the Spanish village.
There is no exact date on the founding, however. It is known only that, based on historical records, Arayat was among the very first towns of Pampanga to have thrived between the 14th and 16th centuries ahead of the Spanish conquest. Others claim that the town was founded by either Prince Balagtas of the Madjapahit Empire, or his son, Lord Malangsic (Draw). The center was called Balayan ning Pambuit (Town of Pambuit) located at Barangay Panlinlang.
By 1571, Arayat was already considered to be one of the most progressive Spanish settlements in Pampanga. In 1590, the first Agustinian mission was established in the town by Fray Juan de Valderama.
Arayat became a Spanish military fort in 1600. By 1853, records show that it consisted of 11 barangays (barrios), 23 barangays in 1903. The number of barangays has increased to 30 as of the present time. During the revolutionary years in the early 1900s, General Jose Alejandrino, Mamerto Natividad and his brother Benito and Aranias Diokno are among the popular sons of Arayat that took up arms against the American colonizers.
In the mid 30’s, no less than President Manuel L. Quezon who used to visit the place together with Dr. Emigdio Cruz, a native of Arayat, made it a second home. Quezon procured farm lands in Barangay Camba (Kaledian) and Suclayin. He created a Model Farm and spent his birthday every August 19 in his farm where he also built a “Little Malacanang”, a chapel, school, hospital, irrigation system with flood control, model homes for the farm helpers. He maintained a group of agronomists and Japanese experts teaching plant and animal husbandry. Quezon and his family used to offer mass at St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish Church located at the town proper.