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During my last visit to the Philippines, I came across an article in one of the leading newspapers there about the origin of the surnames of all Filipinos.

It was researched and written by Ms. Tingting Cojuangco, the former governor of Tarlac, a former model, a member of the upper ten thousand families in the Philippines and a regular contributor to the newspaper where this article under the title “What’s in a surname” appeared. It fascinated me, and I thought of sharing it in summary with our PEB readers, who may also be interested to know how we got our family names.

The governor and captain general in the Philippines from 1844 -1849, Narciso Claveria y Zaldua noticed in his travel to the different provinces that the colonial Philippines native residents lacked individual surnames to distinguish families. So, he issued a superior decree for Filipinos to take possession of surnames from a catalogue compiled by the Reverend Father Provincials of the five religious orders: the Jesuits, the Franciscans, the Agustinians, the Domenicans and the Recollects. This book of names

was known as “Catalogo de Alfabetico de Apellidos”.

The Jesuits were in charge of Surigao, Davao and Cotabato. The Franciscans were in Laguna, Quezon, Aurora, Samar, Leyte and portions of Bulacan. The Agustinians were in the provinces of Batangas, Pampanga, Iloilo, Cebu, Ilocos, Capiz, Antique and Aklan. The Domenicans took charge of Batanes, Cagayan, Pangasinan, Tarlac, Bataan and Zambales, and the Recollects Bohol, Cavite, Siquijor and Dumaguete.

Of course, there were already existing indigenious surnames, like Karunungan,

Karamihan and Kahabagan in Laguna. The Kapampangans were Makapagal,

Gatpolintan and Gatmaitan, and in Batangas, Dimayuga, Dimagiba, Dimatulac

and Dimalanta. Many also adopted the names of saints that resulted in the existence of thousands of individuals with the same surname.

The “Catalogo de Alfabetico de Apellidos” contained 60,638 surnames in alphabetical order. Examples of suggested surnames included Horada, Hore,  Horeda, Horio, Hormillas, Hormillada, Hornada and thousands more under letter “H”. Even names of vegetables, such as Kamote Kalabasa, Balatong,  Hebechuelas, Pichay, Malunggay were taken, as well as minerals like Bulawan, Guinto or Pilac. Geographical names appropriated included Bukid,  Bundoc,Gubat,; in the arts, Carinosa, Curacha. There were even fish, like Lapu-lapu, Bulik, Hito, as well as animals, like Pabo, Paca, Pato, Pajaro.  Even “Utut” also became a family name.

The head of the province, the governor sent the catalogue of names to the respective parish priests for distribution to the “cabecerias” ( barangays) through the municipal officials and competent “principales”. Each head of the family chose or was assigned a surname from the catalogo and adopted it for his family and direct descendants. Children begotten by Spaniards and those of Chinese origin who already had surnames were allowed to retain them and to continue using them for their descendants. Once the listing of the surnames had been accomplished, it was entered in the new registry and individuals could no longer change their surname. The punishment of

changing surname with malice would be no less than eight days in prison. The sentence would be redeemable only if the accused paid a 3 Pesos fine. This decree produced the intended results for the Spanish conquistadores, which was, of establishing a nationwide accurate identification of the natives. It caused a tribute list from which revenues were expected from the natives for the  Philippine government of Spain; it helped in the monitoring of native migration and travels; the administration of justice was made swifter; and the regulation of improper  marriages between Spaniards and natives were identified. As expected, this decree did not materialize in the Mindanao and Sulu areas because the Spanish colonial rule had never been successful in  the Moroland.

Lorna Titgemeyer