What's in a (Filipino) Name?, Part 1
by Ping Bayani
July 2016

Editor’s note: Ever wondered why many, if not most, Filipino surnames are Hispanic? What were the native family names and what happened to them? Below is the first of excerpts from an article written by Penélope V. Flores, Professor Emeritus at San Francisco State University, from this website. It gives an insight into why and how we got to the surnames we carry today.

The Regidor (Treasury Accountant) had complained constantly like a broken record to the Governor General of the impossibility of fulfilling his tax-collecting task due to the liquidity of naming conditions in the whole archipelago...because of three anomalies.

First, the natives were named after the area where they lived. If one lived by the seashore he was Kato Tabing Dagat. However, if Kato changed his address to the forest glen, he became Kato Ginubatan. He was the same person yet he was registered as two persons in the municipal registry book.

Second, the traditional practice was to be named as the grandson of so and so, as in Apo ni Tuliao or Apo ni Lagmay...If the grandfather died, the name changed to the father’s name as in Anak ni Batak, or Anak ni Tasyo.

Third, if the person had a unique characteristic, his name was a physical description of his/her person. Cross-eyed Juan was called Juang Duling. A satirical ridicule happened when a very bald guy was called Kulot (Curly).

With this in mind, Governor General Narciso Claveria asked Madrid for a list of names to be given out to the colonial subjects in the Philippines. Madrid collected all the names in all the provinces of Spain. It was called Catalogo de Apellidos.

Claveria thought: "If I can standardize all the surnames in the Philippines, I can trace all the family tributes and personal taxes of every single one."

The personal head tax was four reales or two chickens and a sack of rice. And besides, this new naming pattern made it easy to trace the lineage of all the tulisanes and highway bandits who roamed the countryside.

Claveria in 1849 called a meeting of all the provincial governors in the country. Gleefully armed with his Catalogo, he instructed them to give a surname to all heads of families under their jurisdiction. The parish priests helped.