It is widely believed that the name of Udupi was derived from its Tulu name Odipu. The Tulu name in turn is associated with a temple at Malpe, devoted to Vadabhandeshwara. Another story is that the name Udupi came from the combination of the Sanskrit words Udu and Pa, which mean "stars" and "lord." According to legend, the moon's light was once reduced due to a curse by King Daksha, whose 27 daughters (the 27 stars, according to Hindu astrology) were married to the moon. The moon prayed to Lord Shiva to get back its original shine. Lord Shiva was pleased with the moon's prayer and restored its shine. Legend says that the moon and his wives made their prayer at the Chandramouleeshwara temple at Udupi, creating a linga that can be seen even today. According to this story, therefore, Udupi means the land of the "lord of the stars," the moon.
Udupi had a population of 11,77,908 Males constituted 49% of the population and females 51%. The average literacy rate was 83%, higher than the national average of 59.5%; male literacy was 86% and female literacy 81%. Eight percent of the population was under 6 years of age.
Udupi, which previously had a Town Municipal Council now has a City Municipal Council which came into existence in 1995. Areas around Udupi, such as Manipal, Malpe and Santhekatte were merged to form the City Municipal Council.
The Udupi Urban Development Authority (UUDA) is responsible for town planning and other related development activities in Udupi and the surrounding areas.
Udupi was carved out as a separate district from the erstwhile Dakshina Kannada district on 25 August 1997. Udupi, Kundapura and Karkala were bifurcated from the Dakshina Kannada District and the Udupi District was formed.