A sense of order must be second nature to someone who rules the Philippines because there is so much in our everyday life that needs to be put in order. One significant historical figure with a sense of order was Narciso Claveria y Zaldua, governor-general of the Spanish Philippines in 1844-1849, who issued two decrees that still affect us in 2013.
On Aug. 16, 1844, Claveria, who signed himself “El Conde de Manila,” issued a decree that must have seemed odd to everyone: He reworked the calendar such that Monday, Dec. 30, 1844, would be followed immediately the next day by Wednesday, Jan. 1, 1845. One day disappeared in our history; Tuesday, Dec. 31, 1844, was erased from the record.
Claveria did so to correct the Philippine calendar that was one day behind the rest of Southeast Asia. This was a mistake that went all the way back to the Magellan expedition of 1521, as recorded daily by Antonio Pigafetta, who noticed after his return to Spain that he had gained one day. This discrepancy was settled at the 1884 International Meridian Conference in Washington, D.C. that created the international dateline, but when “GMT” was set up, the Philippines did not have to adjust its calendar because Claveria had done so decades earlier.
On Nov. 21, 1849, Claveria decreed that all Filipinos should take a surname as a step to improve census data and tax collection. It also had the added benefit of tracking down unusual or unauthorized migration throughout the Philippines. The decree came with a 141-page book known to historians as the “Catalogo alfabetico de apellidos” (Alphabetical catalogue of surnames) from which surnames were distributed geographically.
Thus, most of the surnames that begin with “R” went to Oas, Albay, while parts of Romblon got F, M, or R. Old families in Argao, Cebu, have surnames that begin with “Villa-” and “Al-”. Iloilo surnames that begin with T are plentiful in Tigabauan, G in Guimbal, M in Miag-ao. Thus, it was possible up to the early 20th century to guess where a person was from based on the first letter of his surname.
The “Catalogo de apellidos” explains why many Filipinos have Spanish surnames like Guerrero, Ocampo, Garcia, Reyes, etc. Our surnames are not exclusively Spanish because some Chinese names were retained but took on Romanized forms, like Tuason, Chua, Cojuangco. Then there were pre-Spanish nobility like Lacandola, Mojica, Tupas, whose surnames were restricted to those who had “just title to possess them.” Then there were others whose names had the prefix Gat, as in Gatbonton or Gatmaitan.
Browsing the Catalogo has provided me hours and hours of fun. Just letting my fingers do the walking on A yields familiar surnames like Aberilla, Abella, Abalos, Abayari, Abad, Abadilla, Abanceña; also Tagalog verbs aagawin or aalilain. Whoever compiled the Catalogo ran out of surnames and put in many ordinary and funny Philippine words: aray, ari, ariarian, ayengyeng and ayingying. If your ancestors were lucky, they probably got something tame like Abaca, Abangan, Abobot, Abuso, or Absurdo. Those with a religious bent who registered early had the choice of the religious surnames: Pascua, Pasco, Navidad, Natividad and Aguinaldo, cheerful names connected to Christmas, or Cuadrigesima, Cuaresma, or Ceniza (Ash) that imparted the sorrowful flavor of Lent all year round. Other choices were Crux or Cruz (as in Tom Cruz), Cruzada, Sacramento, Sacramenta, Sacro, Sacristia and Sacristan.
Now imagine if your ancestors were unlucky and had to choose from leftovers in letter B. They could be stuck with: Babuy/Baboy (pig), Baca (cow), Balbon (hairy), Balbas (beard), and, worst of all, Bangcay (corpse). But not all the names in the Catalogo were taken, and I have yet to see someone with the following surnames: Vulgar, Vulgarizado. Cupal (foreskin), Otong (nipple), Tanga, Gago, Otot/Utut, Ututan (fart), Tae, Ungas, Onggoy (monkey), Dilis, Dilangbaca (cow tongue), Dilangusa (deer tongue), Dilangbutiqui (lizard tongue). Worse, can you imagine being made to pick Muta (mote) or Colangot (snot)?
Sometimes the name may not fit your physical description. Imagine the fair-skinned Pinoy who was given the surname Negre, Negrilla, Negrete, Negrillo, Negrito or Negros? Imagine if you were called Ngipin (teeth) or Gahasa (rape). Then there are words that are simple and ordinary, but take on a different meaning when said with a different tone: Macahiya (shy or the shy plant), Mainit (hot), Maitim (dark), Mailap (shy), Malapot (thick), Malaqui (big), Malati (small), Malupit (cruel), Quipot (narrow), Quisquisan (grinding), Malibog (horny), Dotdot (to puncture), Tohog/Tohogan (to string together). These surnames by themselves look like the one-word titles of Pinoy sexy films that run in third-rate downtown cinemas.
Remember that Jose Rizal came from a big Calamba family whose surname was Mercado (market). He was the only one who used Rizal (Risal in the Catalogo, from the Spanish ricial that means a green field ready for harvest) in school. As a matter of fact, in his school records he sometimes used Mercado, sometimes Rizal, sometimes both Mercado and Rizal.
There is more to a name than meets the eye, and whatever name you now carry, you can thank or curse Narciso Claveria’s sense of order.
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Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org