The Claveria Decree of 1849
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.
On the 21st of November 1849, the Governor General of the Philippines, Don Narciso Claveria y Zaldua, issued a law (thereafter called the Claveria Decree) requiring Filipinos to adopt Spanish AND indigenous names from the Catalogo Alfabetico de Apellidos for civil and legal purposes (The notion that this decree mandated the use of Spanish names is false). The fact that majority of the people selected Spanish names perhaps reflected the prevalent colonial mentality that a foreign name would make one’s family appear more distinguished.
A clan would be exempted from the law if they already have a surname that can be found on the catalog, or have used their surname for more than 4 generations. Titular surnames, like Mojica or Lakandula, can only be adopted by families with the legal right to use them.
This landmark law ensured the uniform usage of surnames after 1849. For purposes of genealogical research, progress beyond 1849 can be a challenge as our clan may have used various surnames before then.
1 “Alphabetical Catalog of Surnames“. Wikipedia. Date modified: 10 August 2010. Date accessed: 19 Sep 2010.
2 “Decree of 21 November 1849“. The Families of Warren and Lucy Perez Zahler. Date accessed: 19 Sep 2010.
3 Santos, Hector. “Catalog of Filipino Names“. Date modified: 16 April 1999. Date Accessed: 19 Sep 2010.