Almost all Filipinos have Spanish names, these names came from a decree (1849) that required everyone to have surnames similar to that of a Spaniard or at least derived from a list they provided. Before the implementation of the decree, most Filipinos were patronymic. No clear standard in naming children upon baptism. The practice of adopting names from the Catholic Saints were influence taken from the Friars. Narciso Claveria, the liberal and vigorous governor, foresaw that such practices of incoherent names of the natives (some even without it) would present challenges later on both in tax collections and records. Written records were very deficient at that time it made document verification difficult. Tracing ancestry before 1800’s was almost impossible.
Some Prehispanic tribes does not even possess surnames. There were instances that a child’s name was taken from his appearance or some natural event (some tribes even had a tribal culture of having no names). When the Friars started baptizing the Indios they initially started using names of saints, mostly naming people based on what the Saints feast day. This practice became the norm. Claveria’s decree amended this in 1847.
Aside from significantly improving the governments collection of tributes, the decree’s greatest gift was that it paved the way for the native to wholly integrate in the society (as would be in the case of the Chinos). When the so called evolution of the Filipino identity finally became clear, the Catholic names, made it uncomplicated for the native without an education to function as fully accepted subjects within the society. A Christianized native, that had acquired a Christian name enjoy the benefits of having a name familiar with that of an elitist or a Spaniard. This method of making Hispanized names obligatory to all is often slandered as the doing of the Spaniards for they intend to completely control every aspects of the Filipino life, but a clear reading of its anon effects would illustrate how it improved the Christian communities, as it was visualized by Claveria.
In most towns, individuals would have names opening with the same letter of the alphabet. The surnames were based on the town of origin. Those starting with “A” (like mine) are set aside for those people who dwells in capital. The outlying town receives names starting with the subsequent letters, “B” for the second town, “C” for third town. This practice was never across the board, there were exemptions. The last names was also based on the first letter of the town, such is the case of Capas, it was assigned to “C”, this explains the predominance of the surnames that starts with this letter, such is the case on other towns all over the islands colony.
The authors of the book State and Society in the Philippines has this to say, “A town would choose the names of one letter of the alphabet, a second choose the names of another letter, and so on. Until recently, one could tell the hometown of the an individual by his or her surname. This was true, for example, in Albay province. Those of Oas town, those with “O” from Guinobatan, and those with “B” from Tiwi. This also explains why many Filipinos today bear Spanish names although they may not have Spanish blood”
What was Claveria Thinking
Nowadays, whenever someone would raise the question on how a Filipino got his Iberian sounding name, others would be quick to point to the “decree” ordering everyone to take on a Spanish name without apparent explanation of what’s the reason behind it.
Claveria offers us his explanation:“During my visits to the majority of the islands, I observe that natives in general lack individual surnames which distinguished them by families. They arbitrarily adopt the names of the saints as their last names, this results to the results in the existence of thousands of individuals having the same surnames. Likewise, i saw the resultant confusion with the regard to the administration of justice, government, finance and public order and the far-reaching moral, civil and religious consequences to which thismight lead, because the familynames are not transmitted from the parents to their children, so that it is sometimes impossible to prove the degress of consanguinity for purposes of marriage, rendering useless the parochial books which in Catholic countries are used for all kinds of transactions.” he continues,”for the purpose of catalgue of family names has been compiled, including indigenous names collected by the reverend fathers provincial of the religious orders, and the Spanish surnames they have been able to acquire, along those furnished by the vegetable and mineral kingdoms, geography, arts, etc. In view of the extreme usefulness and practicality of this measures, the time has come to issue a directive for the formation of a civil register, which may not only fulfill and ensure the said objectives, but also serve as the basis for the statistics of the country, guarantee the collection of taxes, the regular performance of personal services, and the receipt of payment for exemptions. It likewise provides exact information of the movement of the population, thus avoiding unauthorized migrations, hiding taxpayers, and other issues.”
The decree after all was not conceived out of greediness and malevolence intent but by having a successful administration of records. The Governor plainly stated the benefits of having surnames for the natives on the long run would prevail over its initial awkwardness. This order that gave us the names that we still bear with us until now is perhaps the greatest impression of the Spanish era aside from our religion.
There were exceptions, indication of the orders flexibility, i.e., the direct descendants of ancient rulers (i.e., Mojica, Tupas etc.) were excluded and were permitted to maintain their surnames. The Tagalog nobility was also spared (i.e., Gatmaitan, Hilario etc.) this is the reason why we still hear these surnames up to now. For the rest were given regulated name (based on the Catalogo Alfabetico de Apellidos). There were those who were ordered to take on unique surnames (usually names of flora & fauna) to make them more visible, like in the case of the Rizals, which already had Mercado, a name taken by the first Francisco Mercado (Domingo Lam Co’s son). Its interesting to note however that Asuncion Bantug pointed out in her book “Si Lolo Jose”, that the reason behind the change was that original Francisco hated the name Mercado for it means “market”, choosing another name, Ricial. The Mercados later on started using their second last name, Rizal, as an act of uniting behind Jose’s flight.
With the decree also came the opportunity for those without surnames to obtain one. A catalog of names where one could pick was handed to the natives (a directory of Spanish names). The Friars being elected as the agents of organization during the initial years of the decree proved to be successful. The policy was generally realized and Claveria’s requirements of a unified registry was created and this would give the Filipino today a way to trace their lineage. The practice also made sure that the surname of the the mother would be attached, this explains “y” (police, NBI and other national records) after the fathers surname. According to the study prepared by Pepe Alas, we’re the only nation now that still follow this format.
The Chino Christiano
These Mestizos were allowed to hold on to their name Chinese surnames. This was accredited by the administrators so as for these Mestizo’s not to lose their lineage and culture. It was a regular practice also then to generate a last name by merging Chinese names, like that of their parents (i.e., Yu -chen -co, Lim -cau -co etc.). Many of this surnames having “co” at the end because of the Hokkienese polite suffix of “ko” (meaning “big brother”). There were also occasions that the Catholic Filipino Chinese would blend their native names to that of a Christian name, this adaptation is unique and is said to be the only one of its kind in the world. Contrary to what most accept as true, that these names were imposed without due considerations, the Christianized Chinese mestizo’s supplies us with a clear example of the laws flexibility (like the considerations for the Tagalog noble clans). The decree was in no way meant to disassociate the Filipino to his native origins and his family.
The Filipino Chinese then was different from the Baba of Malaya and the Javanese Peranakan, both Chinese immigrants, as Wickerberg says, ” the Chinese mestizo in the Philippines was not a special kind of Chinese, he was a special kind of Filipino”.
This points to the fact of the Filipino Chinese integration to the Filipino society – they became a Filipinos, their prosperity and influence during the Spanish era is a proof of their contributions to the society as key actors.The other Sino immigrants in the neighbouring colonized regions, the Filipino Chinese was not restrained in their comunity but was encouraged to integrate and participate. It was observed that some eventually lost attachment to the Chinese culture and as the author of the book “Brains of the Revolution” says, “instead, a very strong affinity for a Philippine version of Hispanic culture”, referring to the Mestizo’s preference to the hispanic culture.”
Contrary to the claims of renowned historians that this decree stripped us of our native identity, the scheme actually restored the self-esteem for the Filipino then. Today, as we go on with our contemporary lives, we have government agencies going up the mountains and registering natives (for administration, medical and educational purposes), in some cases, missionaries meet up with this tribes to baptize them and give them Christian names, how is this different from what the Claveria decree formed?