In the Philippines, a Spanish surname does not necessarily mean a Hispanic lineage; though quite a few would like to think so, even bringing home their family’s “coat-of-arms” bought from a souvenir shop in Madrid as bragging rights. But unless you know for sure, whether from family records or lore, that you are descended from a Spanish immigrant—be he a soldier, a businessman, or a friar—your Spanish-sounding surname may find its ancestor only as far back as 1850, in a book called Catalogo Alfabetico de Apellidos.
The catalogue accompanied the 1849 Claveria Decree which mandated all Filipinos to adopt a family name. It presented 60,288 surnames, mostly Spanish, from which all the indios (natives) with a few exceptions, must choose. The decree, enacted in 1850, was the initiative of Don Narciso Claveria y Zaldua, then the governor general of the Philippines. Claveria must have been an orderly man and an organised leader who could not stand the mess in a nation without a system of surnames. Indeed, that posed a problem, particularly in attempting to prove the degrees of consanguinity for marriage purposes as well as for matters of tax and inheritance.
With the arrival of the Spaniards in 1521, but before the enactment of the Claveria decree, names, both first and last, were casually adopted by the natives. Most popular were those of saints such as San Jose and Santamaria, often resulting in multiplicity, as in the case of Santos, commonly considered the Filipino Smith. This was aggravated by a Church rule of giving the sacrament of Baptism only to those with religious names. Ergo, the proliferation of the name Maria.
We can cite the case of the great-great grandfather of our national hero Dr Jose Rizal from the writings of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP). Lam-co (“Lam, esq” in English, “co” being a notable title in Chinese ancestry) migrated to the Philippines sometime in the late 1600s. On a Sunday in 1697, at the age of 35, he was baptised at the San Gabriel Church in the predominantly Chinese community of Binondo and adopted “Domingo”, his baptismal day, as his first name.
Domingo Lam-co married the Chinese mestiza Ines de la Rosa and had a son born in 1731. The boy was named Francisco but for his surname, he was given the name Mercado, believed to be a gesture of gratitude to another friar of the same name, as well as after a Spanish mestizo friar renowned for his botanical studies. The NHI notes, “The surname ‘Mercado’, which means ‘market’ in Spanish, was quite appropriate, too, since many ethnic Chinese were merchants, and many having adopted the same surname.”
In general, however, there was hardly any system to speak of. Surnames were not handed down to the next generations; siblings assumed different surnames in some cases.
Although in the case of Francisco Mercado, he passed on his name to his son, Juan, who did the same to his children, one of whom was Rizal’s father, also named Francisco.
So, where did the family name Rizal come from? NHCP writes that when the Claveria decree was imposed, Francisco chose the additional surname, which came from the Spanish word ricial, connoting a green field or a pasture. Was Mercado not Spanish enough for Francisco? Did it not exempt the family from being required to change their name? Or, did Francisco want a name associated with what he did, which was farming?