Claveria's Decree on Surnames

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The Catálogo alfabético de apellidos (English: Alphabetical Catalog of Surnames) is a book of surnames that was published in the colonial era Philippines after a decree for the systematic distribution of family names and the implementation of the Spanish naming system on the inhabitants of the Philippines.

The book was created after the Spanish Captain and Governor General Narciso Clavería y Zaldúa issued a decree on November 21, 1849, in response to the inconsistencies in the way Filipinos arbitrarily chose surnames. Following the Christianisation of the Philippines, many Filipinos chose surnames such as de los Santos, de la Cruz, del Rosario, Bautista for their religious significance; even today these surnames are perhaps the most common. Many other Filipinos also chose surnames of well-known chieftains such as Lacandola. Furthermore, many people within the same family had different surnames. This posed a difficult problem to Spanish authorities, who found it difficult to perform a census on the archipelago's inhabitants, as well as hindering tax collecting.



The book itself consists of 141 pages. The surnames are arranged in 6 columns with at most 72 surnames per column. Despite the title, the surnames are not strictly listed alphabetically (after Gandain is Ganavacas then Gandoy, and Balledor is listed under "V").

All of the letters of the Spanish alphabet are represented except for the letters "I" (in the Spanish orthography of the time "Y" was used instead of an initial "I"), "K" and "W" (non-existent in the Spanish alphabet) and "X" (due to a consonant shift, earlier surnames like Ximénez were spelled Jiménez, with a J, by that time.)

Source of surnames

The surnames were culled from many Philippine languages, including Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilokano, Hiligaynon, and others. Spanish, however, provided the bulk of the surnames.

Many of the words from Philippine languages come from a wide variety of themes such as nature, vegetation, geography, and others.

Examples of surnames include Daquila (modern form/orthography:dakila;noble), Balani (magnetism), Bombay (bumbay;Indian), Malaqui (malaki;big), Dimatulac (Dimatulak;can't be pushed), Lagip (Ilokano: memory), Puti (white), Talong (eggplant), Maliuanag (maliwanag;bright), Mabanglo (Ilokano: fragrant), and Ycasiam (ikasiyam/ika-9;ninth).

Curiously, potentially offensive words were also included as surnames, including Gajasa (gahasa;rape, rash), Bayot (Cebuano: homosexual), Bacla (bakla; another homosexual), Otot (utot;flatulence), Tanga (stupid), Limotin (limutin;forgetful), Lubut (Cebuano: buttocks), Tae (excrement), Ongoy (unggoy;monkey), Bajo (baho;smelly), Aso (dog) and Yyac (iiyak;will cry).

Words and surnames derived from Spanish include Villafuerte, Lectura, Orlanda, Escritor, Evangelista, Javier, Loco, Maestro, Buensuceso, Buey, Peñarredondo, Yncredulidad, Jurisprudencia and Hidalgo.

Words from other languages include Chinese (Chua, Fang, Quinzon, Yi, Jonson, Hizon), Malay (Gadya), Arabic (Suylaman), Catalan (Ortells, Llop, Puig, Lletget) and Basque (Echevarria, Labadia.) There are even surnames from Latin (Rex), German (Ymbrecht), Italian (Buffardessi, Parco) and English (James, Burton, Gray).

There are also surnames whose origins are unknown: Odgial, Lundete, Bux, Cheregumi, Yaeld, Zaerg, Jevod-vod, Gaxual, Fuñigan, Coppocopyo, Gleyoni, Heorlas, Nealloc, Niex, Micarabungbung, among many others.

Dissemination of surnames

According to the decree, a copy of the catalog was to be distributed to the provincial heads of the archipelago. From there, a certain number of surnames, based on population, were sent to each barangay's parish priest. The head of each barangay, along with another town official or two, was present when the father or the oldest person in each family chose a surname for his or her family.

Several groups were exempted from having to choose new surnames:

  • Those possessing a surname previously adopted (whether indigenous or foreign) that was on the list anyway; or if not on the list, that their name was not prohibited due to ethnic origin or if it was too common.
  • Families who having already adopted a prohibited surname (either because it had become too common, like de los Santos, de la Cruz, or other reasons) were able to prove they had had it for at least four consecutive generations.

Because of the mass implementation of Spanish surnames in the Philippines, amongst Filipinos a Spanish surname might not necessarily indicate Spanish ancestry and can make it difficult for Filipinos to accurately trace their ethnic background.

Actual application

The actual application of assigning surnames widely varied from town to town and from province to province. The provinces of Camarines (now Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur) and Tayabas (now Quezon Province) were known to enforce this rule strictly, while parts of Laguna simply ignored the decree.

In the town of Oas, Albay, for instance, many surnames there begin with the letter R such as Roa, Reburiano, and Rebajante. On the island of Banton, Romblon, surnames that begin with the letter F are prevalent such as Fadrilan, Famatigan, Fabicon, Faigao, etc.

Surnames starting with Villa and Al are abundant in the town of Argao, Cebu. Some surnames are: Villaluz, Villaflor, Villamor, Villanueva, Albo, Alcain, Alcarez, Algones, etc.

Since there are potentially at most 61,000 surnames in the book, not all of the surnames were used.

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