Filipino Surnames


Normally I just talk first names, but I got into a rather interesting discussion with a Filipino friend about the naming culture in her country, and couldn’t help but want to share with you what she told me.

You see, my friend speaks a native language in the Philipines called Tagalog, which according to her shares similarities with Spanish. This is no coincidence because The Philippines were ruled by the Spanish from the 16th to the 19th century – with their declaration of independence coming in 1898, but wasn’t recognised until 1946 with the Treaty of Manila.

What’s so important and the thing I want to talk about is a piece of legislation which came into force in 1849, a few decades prior to this.

It’s called the Alphabetical Catalog of Surnames and is a book of surnames published as a response to a Spanish colonial decree establishing the distribution of Spanish family names among the Filipino population, i.e. the aim was to make tax collecting easier.

The book itself did not contain exclusively Spanish names, and there were surnames listed within it’s 141 pages that were drawn from one of the many Filipino languages.

The main aim of the book was to help alleviate the difficulties the Spanish colonial authorities faced when a significant number of the population either no surname at all, or the situation wherein many people in the same family had different surnames altogether.

The way in which new surnames was chosen went along the lines that a copy of the book was distributed to each of the provincial heads of the archipelago, and from there a certain number of surnames (based on the population) were sent to each parish priest of a district (known in the Philippines as a barangay). The head of each of these barangays and another town official would then be present when the father or oldest person in each family chose a surname for his or her family.

There were groups exempt from having to choose new surnames, namely:

– Those already possessing a previously adopted name already on the list.

– Those who could prove that they had used their surname for at least four consecutive generations, but their surname was not listed in the book.

In practice however, implementation of these new surnames was very uneven. In some provinces, e.g. Albay, the governor apparently tore out pages from the Catalogue and sent them to individual towns. Hence, almost everyone in the town had names beginning with the same letter (“B” in Tiwi, “R” in Oas, etc.) In other provinces, it was much more random. A lot of people kept old surnames (including “de los Santos” and the like) even though the decree supposedly forbade this.

This mass adoption also means that a Filipino with a Spanish surname may have no Spanish heritage whatsoever, although some of course do.

Categories: Filipino Names | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Filipino Surnames

  1. Sebastiane

    Very interesting!


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