The first reference to a village of Pasir Ris, Passier Reis, appeared in 1852. There has been conjecture that perhaps this is a contraction of Pasir Hiris (pasir is "sand" and hiris means "to shred" in Malay).
The area was known as White Sand because it had a good beach. A major shopping complex, White Sands Shopping Centre, is located in the area that embodies the local place name.
Pasir Ris is geographically divided into 3 regions: Loyang (East), Central and Elias (West).