Today in Filipino History: Catálogo Alfabético de Apellidos

TODAY IN FILIPINO HISTORY: 21 November 1849 — Governor-General Narciso Clavería y Zaldúa (Conde de Manila) decreed the printing of the “Catálogo Alfabético de Apellidos” to assign and standardize the surnames of Filipinos. This came to be known today as the “Clavería Decree”.

A prevailing myth today is that when you have a Spanish surname, it automatically means that you have a great-great somebody from Spain for an ancestor. While this may be true to a select few families (Fábregas, Gómez, Pertierra, Preysler, Velasco, Ziálcita, etc.), this notion cannot be applied to all Filipinos with Hispanic last names. It should be noted that throughout the three centuries of Spanish rule, very few Spaniards came to the archipelago. In fact, the most number of Spaniards who arrived here during that epoch were in cassock.

Before Spain created Filipinas on 24 June 1571, most of the natives had only one name, usually descriptive of the person. During the rest of the Spanish period preceding 1849, Filipinos started using whatever Spanish surname that suited their fancy. The newly Christianized, for instance, usually chose the names of saints for their last names (Bautista, Dionisio, Pablo, etc.). There were even members of the same family who had different surnames, hence confusing census recording, tax collection, and other forms and means of governance. Surnames back then were not even transmitted from parents to children as adults were free to choose whatever last name they had wanted to use for themselves; José Rizal was a remnant of this practice, although it can be argued that he used it under different circumstances).

Clavería solved this problem by releasing a catalogue of 60,662 Spanish (Alas, Arnáiz, Perez) and native (Balicao, Catacutan, Liwanag) surnames to be distributed to provinces throughout the archipelago in alphabetical order. The list was also expanded with the inclusion of the names of places (Évora, Navarra), plants (Alpay, Laurel), animals (Ganza, León), minerals (Esmeralda), character traits (Inocencio, Reformado), and even Hispanized surnames of Chinese origin (Quezon, Tiongco, Yuson).

The list of family names was distributed accordingly to the alcaldes mayores (provincial governors) who then sent a portion of the list to each parish priest under their provincial jurisdiction. Depending on what he thought was the number of families in each barrio or barangáy, the priest then allocated a part of the list to the “cabeza de barangay” (village chief) who then asked the assistance of the oldest member of each family to choose a surname for the rest of his family members. Upon registration of the chosen surname, the individual involved as well as his direct descendants thereupon would use it as a permanent surname.

Curiously, the catálogo also contained surnames that we might find strange and amusing today: Baboy, Bagong-gahasà, Halimaw, Láing, Otot, Tagay, Tañgá, etc. Seriously, such surnames are in the catalogue! Whoever thought of including such terrible sounding last names in the book must have been drunk or had a terrible sense of humor.

From another viewpoint, the Clavería Decree can also be regarded as a “Spanish embrace” because, by decreeing that the natives should OFFICIALLY adopt Spanish surnames, they were fully accepted as Spanish subjects without racial prejudice.

Did Uncle Sam think of such an act when he colonized us for close to fifty years?

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