Common Filipino Surnames: What Your Filipino Surname Really Means

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Filipino surnames can offer you a wealth of knowledge about your family history. Learning about your ancestors through your surname is an excellent way to deeply connect with your identity as a Filipino.

In this article, we discuss the diverse origins and rich history of Filipino surnames. Learn about naming conventions, the meanings behind family names, and the most popular surnames you’ll find in the Philippines!

Why You Should Learn About Your Filipino Surname

The Philippines is home to many ethnic groups, each with its own fascinating culture, customs, and traditions. Although Tagalog is the most widely spoken Filipino language in the country, millions of Filipinos also use other languages like Ilocano, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Waray-Waray, and Kapampangan, in different regions. 

Because of this, learning about the origin of one’s surname can reconnect people to ancestral roots, helping them gain a better sense of their Filipino identity.

The History Surnames In The Philippines

Most surnames in the Philippines are Spanish in origin because of the strong influence that the 333-year Spanish colonization had on the country. But before the Spaniards colonized the Philippines in 1565, native Filipinos didn’t use surnames since individual given names sufficed in their communities.

Filipinos only adopted Spanish naming customs during Spanish rule – this included using family names since it was a standard requirement for paying taxes. When Filipinos began using surnames, they usually chose surnames related to religious leaders to display their devotion to Christianity. However, too many Filipinos chose the same surnames and didn’t pass these on to their kids, which made it quite difficult for the Spanish government to keep track of the families in the population.

To resolve this issue, the Spanish colonizers imposed the Claveria Decree of 1849, stating that Filipinos must adopt either a Spanish or indigenous family name. The book Catalogo Alfabetico de Apellidos was provided by the Spaniards and contained a list of surnames. The law required each family to select one surname that they wished to carry across generations.

Were Filipinos Forced To Use Spanish Surnames?

While some believed that Filipinos could only select Spanish surnames from the Catalogo Alfabetico de Apellidos, Filipinos were given the choice between using a Spanish surname or an indigenous surname. Some people speculated that a lot of Filipinos chose Spanish family names to elevate their social status in a country that was ruled by Spaniards.

Naming Practices In Filipino Cultures

Geographical region and ethnicity play a role in the naming conventions of different Filipino cultures. To help you learn more about your ancestors, we discuss the origins of some of the most common surnames in the country.

Cordillera Surnames

Cordilleran people, sometimes referred to as “Igorots,” are indigenous groups of people who live in the Cordillera Mountain Range. They were known for strongly resisting Spanish invaders who wanted to get their hands on the gold in their lands.

Their successful rejection of Spanish colonizers allowed them to preserve their customs, which included only using given names within their communities. However, they eventually began using their given names as surnames after failing to fend off American colonizers in the 20th century.

Some Cordilleran surnames that came from given names are Tayaban, Dulnuan, Pinkihan, and Tuguinay. Unfortunately, there’s little information on the meanings behind these native names, but it’s believed that these were usually related to nature.

Filipino-Chinese Surnames

The first Chinese ancestors in the Philippines traveled from the southern Chinese provinces like Fujian and Guangdong with the hope of building a better life for their families.

Filipino-Chinese ancestors typically had surnames with more than one syllable before 1898 since they transliterated their full Chinese names into surnames. Some examples of these surnames are Ongpin, Pempengco, and Teehankee.

However, after 1898, Chinese-Filipinos had surnames that were transliterated by selecting last names that most closely resembled their Hokkien pronunciations. Examples of these surnames are Ong, Lee, Tan, Jao, and Uy. In addition, some family names were derived from Chinese words instead like the surname Sison, a Hokkien word for “small grandchild.”

Indigenous Filipino Surnames

Indigenous Filipino names have origins from regions that use Tagalog, Ilocano, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, and many more languages. These surnames often have meanings that stem from folklore, phrases, or notable characteristics in people.

Here are some examples of indigenous Filipino surnames and their meanings!

  • Bacunawa: The Cebuano word Bakunawa comes from a dragon’s name in Visayan mythology.
  • Baluyot: A surname derived from the Hiligaynon word baluyot, meaning “bag” or “pouch”
  • Baquiran: A surname from the Ilocano language, meaning “forest”
  • Catacutan: A surname that refers to the Tagalog word “katakutan,” meaning “fright” or “fear”
  • Cayabyab: A surname with a Tagalog origin derived from the word “yabyab,” which translates to “pounding of rice grains”
  • Dagohoy: Comes from the Cebuano phrase “dagon sa huyuhoy” which translates to”talisman of the breeze.” This surname refers to Francisco Dagohoy, the man who held the longest revolt in the Philippines.
  • Datumanong: A Maranao surname that means “two-headed lizard” and refers to a character in the Maranao epic poem Darangen.
  • Dimacuha: A surname that combines two Tagalog words – “di” (not or can’t) and “makuha” (to get). Together, it forms the word “unobtainable.”
  • Dimaisip: A popular Filipino surname that means “enigmatic.” It has a Tagalog origin, derived from the words “di” (not or can’t) and “maisip” (think or imagine).
  • Dimayuga: A Filipino surname with a Tagalog origin. It combines the Tagalog words “di” (not) and “mauga” (to uproot). Together, it forms a Tagalog word for “unshakeable.”
  • Galura: A surname derived from the Sanskrit word “garuda”, a mythical bird with golden wings
  • Matunog: A Cebuano word that means “loud”
  • Palpal-latok: A surname derived from the Ilocano word for “morning star”
  • Radiomoda: A Maranao surname that means “young king”

Religious-Derived Surnames

Filipinos are exceptionally religious people, reflected in 92.5% of its population practicing Christianity. As a result, they’ve adopted plenty of Christian names, especially ones that refer to Catholic figures or teachings. However, other religions like Islam are also practiced by millions of Filipinos (particularly in Mindanao), further emphasizing that they are culturally diverse people.

Here are some examples of surnames with religious meanings behind them:

  • Akbar: A surname derived from the Arabic word for “greatest”
  • Bautista: A common Spanish surname derived from “San Juan Bautista”, also known as St. John the Baptist
  • Hashim: A Muslim surname associated with Prophet Muhammad’s great-grandfather
  • Labrador: A surname that is believed to refer to the patron saint of farmers, San Isidro Labrador
  • Sulayman: A surname with Arabic roots that translates to “man of peace”
  • Tatlonghari: A common Filipino surname with a Tagalog origin that translates to “three kings”
  • Trinidad: A common surname that is Spanish in origin, referring to the Holy Trinity – one of the teachings from the Catholic Church on the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

How Marriage Affects Filipino Women's Surnames

Although it’s not legally required, a Filipino woman typically changes her surname to her husband’s surname upon marriage. Then, her maiden last name becomes her new middle name.

For example, if a woman named Maria Tolentino Santos marries a man named Christian Dy Gonzales, then the woman’s new name will be Maria Santos Gonzales.

If the couple decides to start a family, their children will carry their mother’s maiden surname as their middle name and their father’s surname as their surname. For example, the Gonzales couple may have a child named Jose Santos Gonzales.

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