06 August 2013

Triviality XV: Catalogo Alfabetico de Apellidos

Another column related to empires and a foreign name. Just like the VOC! Unfortunately this doesn't have a cool symbol that is aesthetically pleasing.

Today's topic is the Catalogo Alfabetico de Apellidos, which is Spanish for The Alphabetical Catalogue of Last Names. It's exactly what it sounds like, an catalogue of last names in alphabetical last names.

Why is it interesting? You shall see in due course. As you may know, I enjoy names - giving them to characters in my stories, sure, but more importantly, changing my own. As a budding writer I enjoy writing my stories under different, exotic names, and this is where the column comes in. Because I enjoy adopting many nom de plumes, monikers and pseudonyms. (Some of my more memorable: Kodiak Marlitaine, Fra Charletoir, Duc de Rimbaud, Marc Trevani, and Jackson Kirkland.)

Back to the column. What is this list? The answer: a list that the Spanish government created for the Filipino peoples in the 1800s, who were under their rule. This is evident in the last names of many Filipinos, who have Hispanic last names.

Some history: While Europe was busy ruling the world, as we all know, Spain was ruling the Philippine Islands. Of course the Spaniards were busy converting the natives to Christianity, and so as a result many chose new names for themselves. It got to a point where many Filipinos were picking the same names (de los Santos, de los Reyes, etc) which, for the Spaniards, was a nightmare for census and tax purposes. In addition, it was just really confusing for people to not have last names, or even worse, different members of the same family having different names!

As a result in 1849, the Governor General of the Philippines, Narciso Claveria y Zaldua, (not gonna comment on that name being so close to Narcissus) issued a decree to stop this confusion once and for all. He created a list of last names for everyone living on the islands (and other islands around the East Indies).

The list itself was not terribly long - only 150 or so pages, and wasn't terribly organized (it had spelling mistakes, and names weren't in alphabetical order in some cases) and more. It skipped some letters (but that's okay, because Spanish didn't have an I at the time, and it sure doesn't have a W unless it's a foreign word).

It's worth mentioning that not all of the names were Spanish. Many of them were. However the Governor General was known for his concerns for the peoples and would often talk to many of them to see what he could do to make their lives better. As a result many names were culled from local tribes and families, to make it a bit more ethnic.

A copy was sent to every local head of state of the island, for the families to pick their names. However it was extremely disorganized. Several islands and barangays (a sort of village) did follow the decree extremely strictly, but some leaders were extremely lackluster, sending only parts of the book to certain villages (so one village would end up with everyone having a last name beginning with G, or H) and some leaders just ignored it. (Some say that you can tell where a person comes from by the letter of their last name. I'm awaiting confirmation on that.)

For the most part the catalog worked and as a result everyone got last names, and naming order was at last established. Mostly. :)


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