Philippines Personal Names

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Understanding customs used in surnames and given names can help you identify your ancestors in records. Learn to recognize name variations and see clues in names.

Online Tools[edit | edit source]

Surnames[edit | edit source]

  • The Philippine naming custom is identical to the Spanish and Portuguese name customs and, to an extent, Chinese naming customs.
  • Today, Filipinos usually abide by the Spanish system of using both paternal and maternal surnames, with the latter used as the "middle name". An example would be Jose Cuyegkeng y Mangahas becoming Jose Mangahas Cuyegkeng, where the particle y is used only for legal purposes and is otherwise dropped. The middle name in its natural sense would have been the second name if the person had one, but is never counted as an individual's given name.[1]
  • The Filipinos began adopting surnames in the 16th century during Spanish colonization; before this, the Filipinos found one name adequate to meet their needs.
  • As the Catholic Church assigned Christian names to new converts and as more and more Filipinos began to use their native names and their Christian names, the government saw a need to standardize naming practices among the Filipinos.
  • The Spaniards issued the Claveria Decree in 1849 in an attempt to assign all Filipinos surnames. This decree was inconsistently enforced, and there are no records describing its institution. In many cases the local magistrates simply assigned surnames to those who did not already have one. They used the following alphabetical index of surnames compiled for that purpose:
  • Because surnames were all assigned over a relatively short period of time and were taken from a single source, it is not uncommon to find that all the surnames from an area begin with the same letter of the alphabet or that all the people of a barangay have the same surname. A barangay was a basic unit of local administration used during Spanish occupation from 1565 to 1898. Today a barangay refers to communities of 1,000 inhabitants within a city or municipality that is administrated by a group of elected officals. A number of barangay could have made up a municipality. [1]

Tagalog Naming Traditions[edit | edit source]

  • In ancient times, the Tagalogs had a naming system that changed via family dynamics. A Tagalog man (especially a chief) would lose his name, take his first born's name, and become known as "son's/daughter's father"; rather than his offspring adopting his surname like today.
  • If he was baptized into Christianity, he would take a Spanish "Christian name" but retain his native name as surname. For example, Calao's father became Don Luis Amanicalao (Lord Luis, a chief of Tondo, Calao's Father).
  • This also applied to mothers (e.g., Inanicao) etc.
  • One also gained numerous "poetic" titles from his renown/actions (e.g. valiance in battle) or other naming means (like a naming feast for those without offspring).[1]

Given Names[edit | edit source]

Many Filipinos modify their names to match their environment. For example, a man named Roberto may anglicize his name to Rob or Robert after moving to a city. Jose would likely become Joe, and Guillermo may change his name to Bill. This is a common practice to keep in mind when tracing a family’s movements. The following book can help you trace such names:

  • Garcia, Mauro. Philippine Pseudonyms, Aliases, Pen Names, Pet Names, Screen Names, and Name Aberrations. Manila, Philippines: Bibliographical Society of the Philippines, 1965. At various libraries (WorldCat)

Another Philippine naming custom is the Spanish practice of assigning a mother’s maiden name as her child’s middle name. Hence, the mother of a child named Bernardo Juarez de la Cruz may very well have the maiden name of Juarez. There are exceptions to this rule, but this custom may be very helpful as you trace family relationships.

Abbreviations, combinations, and elisions[edit | edit source]

  • Long given names can be shortened in various ways. Emmanuel can become Eman, Manuel, Manolo, Manny, or Manoy; and Consolación would be shortened to Connie, Cons, Sol, or Chona.
  • Filipino women with two given names such as María Cristina or María Victoria may choose to abbreviate the very common María (in honor of the Virgin Mary) as "Ma." (with a full stop), thus rendering these given names as Ma. Cristina or Ma. Victoria.
  • Filipino males with two given names such as José Mariano or José Gerardo could follow the same practice of abbreviating José as "Jo.", though this is not as consistent.
  • Another common practice seen in other cultures (most commonly with Spanish conventions) is to elide or combine multiple given names into one nickname. The aforementioned María Cristina and María Victoria may thus acquire the nicknames Maricris and Marivic. Thus the Filipino names Maricel, Maritoni, Marijo, Maritess, and Maricon come from Maria Celia (or Celeste), Marie Antoinette, María Josefa (or Josefina), María Teresa, and María Concepción (or Consolación) respectively.
  • A related custom is that parents combine their given names to create a name for their child. For example:
Joseph + Maria = Jomari
Maria + Carlos = Malolos
Elvin + Liza = Elliza
Marino + Erlinda = Marinerl
  • Some first names like Lodegrano or Lorimer may have been invented on the spot by the parents, or derived from some partially remembered foreign term.
  • Other coined first names have unusual spellings or spellings which are pronounced differently.[1]

Indigenous Languages[edit | edit source]

  • Though most Filipinos adopted Malaysian/Indonesian, Chinese and European (especially Spanish and English) surnames, some chose surnames that derive from words in indigenous languages, like Tagalog, Visayan (Cebuano and Hiligaynon), Ilocano, Kapampangan, and Pangasinan.
  • Many indigenous surnames derive from words displaying qualities of people, especially those related to strength (e.g., Tagalog Macaraeg and Panganiban), defiance (e.g. Tagalog Dimayuga), or settlement (e.g. Cebuano/Hiligaynon Magbanua).
  • Most indigenous surnames are spelled closely following the Spanish-derived orthographic conventions of the time. Many of these words are spelled differently today in the various Philippine languages (following spelling reforms since the late 19th century).[1]

For Further Reading[edit | edit source]

FamilySearch Library[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 "Filipino name", in Wikipedia,, accessed 1 March 2020.