LET’S see: If you have a Chinese surname like SyCip, Tancaktiong, Uytengsu, Gokongwei, Yuchengco, Cojuangco, Tantoco or, ahem, Tantingco, you probably descended from a Chinese trader who had married a native woman (Chinese traders were mostly men, because trading across South China Sea was a man’s job), or probably from a Chinese couple fleeing the civil war in mainland China before the Communists came to power in 1949.

If you have a Spanish surname like Fernandez, Gomez, Gonzales, Rodriguez, Santiago, Villanueva, Pineda, David, Morales, or De la Cruz, you most likely have real Spanish blood flowing in you, unless you’re brown-skinned and have a flat nose, in which case your native ancestors may just have borrowed a Spanish name to replace their original native surname.

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But if you do have a native surname like Liwanag, Guinto, Dimalanta, Surla, Tanglao, Bituin or Sicat, your ancestor was probably proud of his lineage that he did not change his name even when he could have. (You could even be an actual descendant of a noble chieftain especially if you have a surname like Lakandula, Soliman, Magat, Gatbonton, Gatchalian or Gatmaitan—but then again, a lot of families took these surnames because they were popular in those days.)

Long ago, Filipinos did not bother to add a surname to their first name, because they lived uneventful lives in obscure villages where they had no need for signed documents to establish identity or property.

Surnames gradually evolved when people came to be known by their parents’name (Pedrong anak ni Juan, similar to Andrew son of Jack slowly becoming Andrew Jackson), their appearances (Pedrong Pandak, Sabel Taba, Miguel Santing), their positions (Juan Mayor, Maria Capitana), their occupations (Jose Mangubat, Agustin Anloague, Pablo Manese), their virtues or vices (Lucia Bagsic, Juan Tamad, Julian Tapang, Luis Galang).

The Spaniards could never understand why natives used surnames any way they wanted. Sometimes there were multiple surnames within the same family, and sometimes there were hardheaded natives who continued signing their names in the ancient prehispanic baybayin script, which the Spaniards could not read.

There were also those who took it upon themselves to adopt names of illustrious Castilian families and popular saints, which led to the proliferation of Avilas, Loyzagas, Gonzagas, De Guzmans, Aquinos, Del Rosarios, De los Santoses, De la Cruzes and De Jesuses (the most common surname in the country today is Santos).

One missionary was reportedly aghast when he encountered mountain tribesmen sporting surnames like Zaldarriaga, Valderrama, Asturias, De Borbon and Montenegro.

Spaniards also frowned upon odd-sounding names, or names with questionable origins, e.g., pagan or animistic. I’ve seen a 1592 Kapampangan document with names such as Isabel Salopinan, Maria Pangisnauanan, Ines Balinacnac and Lucia Gumamela.

All these quirky choices and inconsistencies had made it difficult for Spanish authorities to hold a census and impose a tax collection system, and so in 1849, Governor General Narciso Claveria decreed that the only allowable surnames in the colony would be those contained in the book Catálogo alfabetico de apellidos, which the colonial government compiled and published.

Any surname not found in the book should be dropped and replaced with one found in the book, unless the family could prove they had used it for at least four consecutive generations.

Copies of the Catalogo were sent to provinces and towns do that local government officials could supervise the allocation of surnames. But copies ran short, and so what officials did was they simply tore off pages from the book and sent them to the villages, resulting in whole communities having family names beginning with the same letter. (In an island in Romblon, for example, everyone is a Festin, or Fadrilan, Famatigan, Fabicon, Faigao, Fangonil, etc.)

There were names in the Catalogo that had no takers, for obvious reasons: Otot, Colangot, Ung-oy, Baboy, Bangcay, Cupal, Talong, Gajasa, Bacla, Tanga, Gago, Tae, Jalimao, and Dilangbutiqui.

Some provinces, like Laguna, ignored the decree, which is why many surnames in that province have remained indigenous (e.g., Biglang-awa, Carunungan, Cagandahan, Dimagiba, Dimaunahan, Mulingtapang and Tukodlangit).

I suppose Pampanga ignored it, too, because we still have so many original Kapampangan surnames today, like Paras, Tayag, Pangilinan, Baluyot, Pamintuan, Pangan, Tulud, Laquindanum, Cubacub, Quiboloy, Turla, Manarang, Manalang, Saplala, Timbol, Sangil, etc.

You may not recognize some of them because their spelling has been Hispanized (Bunduk to Bondoc, Binuya to Vinuya, Kanlas to Canlas, Kalma to Calma, Manangkil to Mananquil) or because the pronunciation has changed (Mácapagal to Macapagál, Laús to Láus, Mániago to Maniágo, Mánabat to Manábat, Mánalili to Manálili).

If you restore these words to their original spelling and pronunciation, you will get a clue into what your ancestors did for a living, and what they were famous or infamous for.

For example, Maniago was someone known for either making horns or behaving like a horned animal (mányagu); Macapagal was someone who wore his opponents out (mákapagal); Panlilio was someone who gave you a headache (panglilyu).

If you want to know if your name came from an ancient Kapampangan word, check out Fray Diego Bergaño’s 1729 Kapampangan dictionary (translated by Fr. Venancio Samson, published by HAU Center for Kapampangan Studies).

That’s where I found out that Sagum means “to mix drinks;” Abad “slight wound;” Sabile “stopover;” Pinlac “to buy wholesale;” Ibe “intoxication by betel nut;” Canlas “to succeed;” Calma “luck;” Tayag “to lift;” Sangalang “to disobey;” Tulabut “to spurt;” Bacay “ambush;” Due “to crave;” Laus “heartfelt;” Suba “to navigate upstream,” and Balatbat “daydream.”

Going back to Chinese surnames, the Chinese in general have one-syllable surnames like Co, Yap, Lee, Sy, Lim and Tan, and it is only in the Philippines where you can find three-syllable Chinese surnames like Tiotuyco, Gotiangco and Lauchengco because of the practice of colonial-era Chinese mestizos to use their patriarch’s complete name, including a title of respect (the most common of which is “co”), followed by his first name and then his surname. Thus, Tantingco is actually my ancestor’s complete name read backwards: co (his honorific title), ting (his first name) and tan (his surname).

The Chinese who survived the massacre in Manila in the 1700s fled mostly to Guagua and other towns in Pampanga; to hide their identity, they adopted two-syllable Chinese surnames ending in “son” or “zon” such as Hizon, Dizon, Henson, Lacson, Pecson, Liongson, Guanzon, Jocson and Bonzon. Most of these surnames originated in Pampanga.

(Reference: Catalog of Filipino Names by Hector Santos, 1995-98)