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November 21, 1849, Claveria Issued a Decree to Adopt a Standardized Records of Filipino Names and Surnames

On November 21, 1849, then Governor General Narciso Claveria issued a decree to adopt a standardized Filipino names and surnames. Through the so-called “Claveria Decree”, he issued a list of family names in alphabetical order, which were based on a catalog of Spanish surnames.

The Catálogo alfabético de apellidos (English: Alphabetical Catalogue of Surnames; Spanish-influenced Tagalog: Alpabétikong Katálogo ng mga Apelyido; ) is a book of surnames in the Philippines and other islands of Spanish East Indies published in the mid-19th century. This was in response to a Spanish colonial decree establishing the distribution of Spanish family names and local surnames among colonial subjects who did not have a prior surname.

The book was created after Spanish Governor-General Narciso Claveria y Zaldua issued the decree, to address the lack of a standard naming convention. Newly-Christianised Filipinos often chose the now-ubiquitous surnames of de los Santos, de la Cruz, del Rosario, and Bautista for religious reasons; others preferred names of well-known local rulers such as Lacandola. To complicate matters further, discrepancies like family members holding different surnames would hinder some of the colonial government’s activities such as taking a census and tax collection.

Accordingly, Claveria distributed the list of family names to the heads of the provinces, then the head of each province sent a portion of the list to each parish priest.

Depending on what he thought was the number of families in each barangay, the priest allocated a part of the list to the “cabeza” (barangay head). The cabeza was then asked to assist the oldest person of each family to choose a surname, which upon registration, the individual involved as well as his direct descendants would from then on use as family name.

Before 1849, Filipinos in general lacked individual surnames which distinguished them by families. They arbitrarily adopted names of saints, resulting in the existence of thousands of individuals of the same surname. This resulted in confusion in the administration of justice, government, finance, and public order.

Also, as family names were not transmitted from parents to children, degrees of consanguinity were difficult to assess for the purpose of marriage.

Meanwhile, under the Claveria decree, those who changed or did not use the name recorded in the new register would be imprisoned. Documents which did not carry the registered family name would not be considered valid.

Hence, since 1850, most Filipinos started using new surnames based on the Claveria list.

Those who had consistently used a family name for four generations were given the option to retain it. All others had to have a new surname.


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