Last month while preparing for a commencement speech at St. Luke’s medical school, I went through barangay names in the Philippines looking for those named after the saint (San Lucas).
What I did was to download files from the last national census of 2010, which has been compiled by regions. Each regional report is broken down into cities and towns, and barangay.
I have to say it was not intensive or formal research. With more than 40,000 barangay in the country, and my very limited time, I could only browse through the names, taking notes on the side. I did not do a formal count by names, leaving that to other nerdy researchers (like myself) who may have more time. It’s something you can do even as a master’s thesis, with some leads that I’m offering in today’s column.
In this very Catholic country, I was not surprised to find dozens of towns and hundreds of barangay named after saints. Offhand, without a formal count, the most popular saints seem to be San Pedro, San Isidro, San Agustin, San Francisco, and Santo Tomas—mostly male, you’ll notice. There are quite a few named Santa Maria (after, presumably, the Virgin Mary) and Santa Ana. There were also many barangay called Santo Niño (Holy Child), and even more common was, not a saint, but something still “holy”: Santa Cruz (Holy Cross).
I suspect many of the places were named after saints that supposedly interceded in times of famine, epidemics, wars, and the many natural disasters that plague us: volcanic eruptions, typhoons, earthquakes.
I found some parallels between the place names and the more popular santos of carved images of saints. Esperanza Bunag Gatbonton’s “A Heritage of Saints: Colonial Santos in the Philippines” has dozens of images of Jesus (especially the Santo Niño) and the Virgin Mary. Among the saints, the more popular ones are San Isidro and San Roque. The former is San Isidro Labrador, popular among farmers. San Roque, on the other hand, is well known for his dog. A nobleman who gave up his comfortable life to work with the poor, San Roque became very ill, and another nobleman, taking pity on him, would send a dog every day with a loaf of bread to feed the ascetic.
The evangelists don’t seem to figure in the santos carvings but Gatbonton’s book has images of San Mateo Evangelista (Mark the Evangelist) and San Jose Evangelista (John the Evangelist, to be distinguished from San Juan Bautista, John the Baptist).
There were no santos for San Marcos (Mark) or San Lucas (Luke); the two are apparently not as well known as John and Matthew. And when we get to barangay names, I found only five (out of more than 40,000) named San Lucas: two in San Pablo City in Laguna, one in San Nicolas in Ilocos Norte, one each in Camaligan and Calabanga in Camarines Sur.
Camaligan seems to be the only town in the Philippines that decided to honor all four evangelists through their barangay: San Marcos, San Lucas, San Mateo and San Juan.
I would have thought that San Lucas, a physician, would have been popular for people seeking miracles, but it seems his image is more of a writer. The four evangelists of the New Testament just don’t seem popular when it comes to people asking for miracles.
Looking for San Lucas got me looking for the “saintliest” of towns—that is, the ones with the most barangay named after saints. I thought Cainta in Rizal was it, with seven barangay named after saints. Then I found that San Nicolas in Ilocos Norte had all of its 24 barangay named after saints, including San Lucas. But by far the “saintliest” town, if we go by sainted barangay, seems to be Agoo in La Union, which has 49 barangay, of which 40 are named after saints (but no San Lucas).
It’s not just the northern provinces that like saints. The town of Santo Tomas in Batangas has 26 barangay named after saints, from Agustin to Teresita. Only four are not named after saints, and guess what their names are? Barangay I, II, III, IV in Poblacion.
Which takes me to the other extreme, the “unsaintliest” towns. Manila has to get that award with more than 100 barangay named after numbers. Manila’s barangay sometimes consist of just one street… with a population as large as many rural barangay.
I wish we’d get rid of this practice, common in larger cities, of naming barangay by numbers. People do say they’re from this or that barangay—“Taga Barangay 308 ako”—but it just refers to a place where they’re from, not a place they belong to. In urban areas, we need more of a sense of place, and identity.
We could follow the lead of Laoag in Ilocos Norte, in which numbers are used combined with names. This town, incidentally, is also very Marian, with several barangay with names using the phrase “Nuestra Senora de” (Our Lady of).
Moving away from saints, there are many possibilities. I don’t know if you want to follow the town of Marcos in the Ilocos, with barangay named not only Ferdinand (after the late strongman) but also Imelda, Pacifico, Elizabeth, and Fortuna (after his wife and siblings). Many towns in Mindanao with predominantly Muslim populations are named after sultans and datus.
In Mindanao there are many barangay with “Nueva” (New) attached. For example, two towns in Bukidnon have barangay named New Visayas—quite poignant, suggesting that the barangay are settlements of migrants from the Visayas seeking to recreate their hometowns.
Batanes’ exoticism is enhanced by its Ivatan barangay names. For example, in Basco you have Kavyaluganan and Kavchanarianan. I didn’t have time to ask one of my Ivatan professors for the names’ meanings, but I wonder if they might be related to the four directions. Which reminds me: Many barangay attach the Spanish “Norte” and “Sur” to their names but use English when it comes to West and East.
I like some of the names of barangay in Tagalog provinces. The city of San Jose del Monte has a barangay named Gaya-gaya (copycat). Santa Maria has Mag-asawang Sapa (husband-and-wife creeks). Pandi has Mapulang Lupa (Red Earth), Siling Bata and Siling Matanda (young and old chili pepper).
And in Talavera, Nueva Ecija, you have Bagong Sikat and Bagong Silang, while their poblacion has the intriguing name of Maestrang Kikay, meaning “coquettish teacher.” Can tell me how they came to use that name?
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.