• Lara

Musings on a Confused Filipino Identity

OCTOBER 2, 2017

Precolonial Naming Traditions and the Claveria Decree of 1849





It is widely known that the Philippines was a colony of Spain (hence the country’s oh-so-original colonial name). When you talk to any modern day Filipino about their heritage, many will proudly speak of their Spanish bloodline. While the intermixing of ethnic groups is a common occurrence of colonial exchanges, what many Filipinos do not realize is that…your Spanish surname does not necessarily indicate Spanish ancestry at all.In 1849, the Claveria Decree was issued in order to organize indigenous Filipinos, effectively making it efficient for the Spanish government to keep track of all the very mundane things that the very mundane Spanish government did. Prior to this time, hereditary ancestral surnames were not a part of indigenous Filipino naming traditions. The concept of having a fixed surname that was passed down from parent to child, or that was adopted by married women from their husbands, was not in existence. Many Filipinos went by at least two names and it was quite common for family members to have many different, unrelated names (many of which were haphazardly chosen after the names of common Spanish saints), in effect bearing no relation at all to their actual paternal or maternal bloodlines. Moreover, these loosely adopted names could freely be changed at any time, resulting in many Filipinos and Spanish alike who were not at all related, yet bore the same name as each other. (Oh, the horror of sharing a last name with the people you’re supposed to be lording over).


You can imagine what sort of confusion this caused the Spanish government when Filipinos did not pass a fixed name onto their children, as is customary in European traditions. This made it difficult for the Spanish government to keep track of their subjects, rendering Filipino naming customs as quite a useless and inefficient method of cataloging. This was a particular common especially in an attempt to document births, marriages, illegal migrations, and more specifically: taxes.


Thus in 1849, Spanish governor of the Philippines Don Narciso Claveria y Zaluda issued a name catalogue to be printed and distributed by the local governors and priests to the barangays. The father, oldest family member, or general head of a family would select their own surname from this provided catalogue which would become their official surname.


Although families and individuals had to adopt new surnames from the provided name catalogue, they were also free to use their previous (possibly indigenous) names, provided that their new surnames were used, first and foremost. Families who could prove that they had kept their surname constant for at least the last four generations were also able to keep their previous name, provided that the name was not common. Due to the carefully administered surnames, it is most likely that families with similar surnames in an area are related, as it is unlikely that Spanish governors would allow two similar surnames to be used by two different families. School teachers were an important part in enforcing the use of new names. They were given a list of the children’s new baptismal and familial names and were to ensure that no other usage of names asides from the ones newly provided were to be used. If they did not comply, they were subject to punishment. Individuals who changed their names after selecting their new official name were also subject to a punishment of a minimum of eight days in jail along with a fine.Although as part of the decree, secondary unofficial names were allowed to be retained as long as a new official surname was selected, I am assuming that the Claveria Decree of 1849 contributed to not only the loss of traditional naming customs, but also to the loss of many indigenous Filipino names themselves.

While the Spanish government did not actively disallow the usage of indigenous names, it is probable that most names from the catalogue were most likely Spanish surnames, as they would have been most familiar to Spanish ears, thus allowing them to be more efficient and easier to pronounce. Many Filipinos opted to use their new Spanish name instead of their indigenous one, as many of these Spanish surnames often bore Catholic significance.

Although the names in the catalogue were mostly Spanish based, some indigenous names from various local languages were an option as well. A few surnames from other languages were also provided, such as Chinese, Malay, Arabic and Latin.

I’m assuming again that the indigenous Filipino names provided would have adapted Spanish orthography, and it might again be safe to imply that many original Filipino names were perhaps lost due to the “Spanishization” of their spelling and pronunciation, and by extension influencing their original and authentic pronunciation. Because of this, there are probably many names unique only to the Philippines, but were not originally an authentic Spanish surname.Moreover, the fact stands that many Spanish-sounding surnames were created during the issuance of the Claveria Decree in an attempt to diversify Filipinos. As a result, the Philippines may again have many Spanish-sounding surnames that are actually not found in other Spanish speaking countries or former colonies, as they are not actually an authentic Spanish name. This again may mislead contemporary Filipinos into believing that they may have mesitzo or Spanish heritage, based on their apparent Spanish (sounding) surname.


Source: Catálogo alfabético de apellidos Photo from interaksyon.com
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