The name “Hambantota” was derived from the sinhala words “Hamban” and “Thota”. The former which was used to describe a certain variety of sailing craft and the latter which means the “port”. So “Hambantota” really was the” port for Hambans”.The town associated with this port as well as the administrative region round it came to be known by this name. It was in this same way that towns such as Matara and Kalutara which too are places associated with ports derived their names from the original “Mahatota” and “Kalutota” respectively and in due course the administrative regions around them too came to be known by these names. A “Hamban” was a particular variety of sailing crafts built by joining two boats together. This type of sailing craft was commonly used for ocean navigation. It was quite popular among the Chinese,Malays and Moors who inhabited the Asian region. The word”Hamban”is belived to have come from the chinese word”sampam”. The chinese called these vessels “Sampam”. It is quite possible that the Sinhala word Hamban is a derivation of the word “sampam”. There is no historical evidence to confirm that is place which is located was the south-east coast of Sri Lanka functioned as port during ancient times. It was “Godawaya” situated at the mouth of “Wananadi”(The Walawe) which served as the principle port on this coast during ancient times. Historical evidence confirm that it was the most important port in the south – east during the second century A.D. According to some oral traditions current among the residents of this region King Gajabahu, who invaded chola kingdom and brought back the sinhalese who had been imprisoned by chola invaders is supposed to have landed at this port on his return to the Island and since the vessels used by him to this voyage were known as “Hamban” this port had thereafter come to know as “Hambanthota”.However there is no historical evidence to prove this story.
This port which was constructed on a trip of land extending seawards afforded protection from the raging waves and currents of the sea, was very spacious as well as well known among sailors who plied the ocean routes at that time.
Human settlements began to come up around the port of Hambantota from the earliest times when it established itself as an important port. The Dutch who wrestled the Maritime provinces from the portuguese, stationed a regiment at Hambantota which was situated at the eastern border of their administrative district of Galle.At this time the Kandyan Kingdom gained its supplies of salt from Hambantota. The Dutch who realized the importance of the saltern as a weapon in their attempt to bring the king under their power stationed a battalion. They setup various offices and quartors close to the port of Hambantota.
During the British period Hambantota developed further not only as a port,but as an urban settlement.During that period (Until 1928) Hambantota port developed as a navel center.Messars Walker & Sons Ltd,were entrusted with the maintenence of the port of Hambantota and according to the British addministrative reports a number of ships called at this port each month.The British built a Kachcheri, regional offices of some government departments,Schools, a police station, a hospital and a court at Hambantota. In this way the name Hambantota by which this port had been known for nearly five centuries previously came to be used , to refer to the whole town as well as the administrative region round it.