Friday, March 13, 2009

Claveria's Decree of 1849 - On Filipino Surnames

From the beginning of the 12th century people from Europe started using surnames but it took several centuries before everyone was using it. Generally, surnames are derived from the names of male ancestors (patronymic) although occasionally, it could also be metronymic. An occupational title was also a cause to use as a forename. Since people in the old days can pinpoint almost where everybody else lived, they used Topographical surnames as a means of distinguishing them from others with the same name. Another factor for making up surnames was by means of Nicknames. This indicates people use description and truncated names of their original names. Overtime, humans interact and migrate, so languages evolve due to changes in pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar.

The orginal way of naming filipinos during the pre-spanish times was patronymic, descriptive and concise. This means every personal name was taken from the name of a father, a grandfather, or their male ancestors adding a description of their physical appearance, prowess, occupation, ethnicity, habits or events.
When the spaniards arrived, the friars started baptizing the conquered population and made them choose the different names of catholic saints. Many people from the mountaenous areas of Luzon, Mindoro, Palawan, and Mindanao where able to escape the fate of the subjugated ones. Apparently, christianization worked so well that most people shared the same last names. This confusion prompted the spanish authorities to force them to change their last names unless they can prove they have been using such names for generations. Another early Filipino custom that created a problem was that siblings took on different last names like they had always done before the Spaniards came. All these "problems" resulted in a less efficient system of governing the general population.

On November 21, 1849 Governor General Narciso Clavería ordered a systematic distribution of family names for the natives to use. The Catalogo Alfabetico de Apellidos was produced and approved names were assigned to families in all towns. Civil servants assigned family names in alphabetical order causing some small towns with only a few families ending up with all names starting with the same letter. Names were also issued based on the town of origin. “A” for example was issued to primary capitals, “B” for secondary towns, and “C” for thirtiary towns. Surnames were also based on the first letter of the town. Before the modern human migration and inter-marriages among ethnicities, one can tell the hometown origin of an individual based on their Iberian last name. There was this story about a civil servant in Guinobatan, Albay during the day of the promulgation of the Claveria-Decree wherein in his haste to get the list from the capital and in order to avoid carrying a thick book of names randomly tore the “O” pages and issued it to the populace. But, in spite implementing regulated Castilian names, there were also clear indications of flexibility in choosing surnames. , i.e., the direct descendants of ancient rulers were excluded and were permitted to maintain their surnames. There were those who were ordered to take on unique surnames (usually names of flora & fauna) to make them more visible. Of course one could not argue the fact that there are indeed funny names issued to unsuspecting Indios by mischievous Spanish civil registrars.

The Chino Mestizos however were allowed to hold on to their Chinese surnames. This was authorized by the administrators so as not to lose their lineage and culture. There were also occasions that the Catholic Filipino Chinese would blend their native names to that of a Christian name, this adaptation is unique and is one of its kind in the world.

The Claveria’s decree though often maligned, was in reality one of the greatest gift of Spain (aside from Catholicism) to the filipino people. This paved the way for the native and non-natives alike to integrate as fully accepted citizens of the society. Thus, this explains why many Filipinos today bear Spanish names although they may not have Spanish blood.

Claveria’s explanation on the decree:

“During my visits to the majority of the islands, I observe that natives in general lack individual surnames which distinguished them by families. They arbitrarily adopt the names of the saints as their last names, this results to the results in the existence of thousands of individuals having the same surnames. Likewise, i saw the resultant confusion with the regard to the administration of justice, government, finance and public order and the far-reaching moral, civil and religious consequences to which thismight lead, because the familynames are not transmitted from the parents to their children, so that it is sometimes impossible to prove the degress of consanguinity for purposes of marriage, rendering useless the parochial books which in Catholic countries are used for all kinds of transactions.” he continues,”for the purpose of catalogue of family names has been compiled, including indigenous names collected by the reverend fathers provincial of the religious orders, and the Spanish surnames they have been able to acquire, along those furnished by the vegetable and mineral kingdoms, geography, arts, etc. In view of the extreme usefulness and practicality of this measures, the time has come to issue a directive for the formation of a civil register, which may not only fulfill and ensure the said objectives, but also serve as the basis for the statistics of the country, guarantee the collection of taxes, the regular performance of personal services, and the receipt of payment for exemptions. It likewise provides exact information of the movement of the population, thus avoiding unauthorized migrations, hiding taxpayers, and other issues.”