Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow are subtractive primary colors.
That is, in an imaging system which creates colors by using inks or other pigments (printers, presses, some proofing systems), cyan, magenta and yellow can combine in equal quantities to produce black (actually muddy brown in most cases - that's one of the reasons black is usually used). All the colors the device is able to create (the device's gamut) are produced by varying the amounts of each ink color.
Subtractive colors get their name because they are thought of as subtracting light out of an image, or from the white of the substrate. Cyan, for instance subtracts (absorbs) red light. If less red is required in a color, more cyan ink is added.