The Claveria Decree of 1849: The Origin of a Name

Eugene Sañosa w/ Siblings & Kin, Manila, 1951

Front L-R: Jose Sañosa Raule; unknown; Pedro Benipayo

2nd Row L-R:
  David Gregorio Sañosa; Purita Benipayo Sañosa (Paterno); Rizalina Gregorio Sañosa (Riel);
Jose Benipayo Sañosa; Jesse Balformoso;  Nerisa Logronio;  Sylvia LaTorre (family friend),  Sylvia's brother

3rd Row (L-R): Herminio Sarrion; Gregorio Alcantara Benipayo; unknown, unknown, Tony Villaverde; Eugene Benipayo Sañosa; unknown; unknown (mother is a Benipayo); Johnny Ante; Roger Saunar; Salvador Tomas; Felix Alcantara; unknown; Marciano Sarte Benipayo

*Nerisa Logronio (Arambulo) is the sister of Amada Logronio (wife of Celedonio Benipayo); Cristeta Logronio (wife of Felix Alcantara) & Isabel Logronio (wife of Jose Sañosa)

Sañosa is a name that is unique to the Philippine Islands. It originated from Polangui, Albay province in the Bicol region, which was founded by the Spaniards in 1584. So, if you carry it, you're definitely related to others that bear it as well. Moreover, it came into being in the mid-nineteenth century during the time of Spanish Philippines when the Count of Manila, Governor and Captain General Narciso Claveria y Zaldua issued a decree ordering all citizens to adopt new surnames so that the colonial government could improve its ability to perform a census and keep the tax rolls straight.

Prior to 1849, Filipinos haphazardly adopted names taken from Catholic saints or symbols which led to numerous unrelated families carrying the same last names like de la Cruz, de los Santos, or Santa Maria. To complicate matters, it was not uncommon for members belonging to the same family to even assume different surnames because Filipinos of that period were quite indifferent towards the concept of having one.

The edict provided a list of prescribed names that originated from both Spanish and Philippine languages. From this list, the heads of families were to choose or be assigned a name (article 3 of the decree) so that the countless, but unrelated de los Santoses and de la Cruzes could be differentiated from one another. The list included illustrious Spanish titles taken from the ranks of the hidalguía (Spanish nobility) like Medinaceli or Osuna, which no one in Spain would dare adopt unless you were a grandee yourself; as well as Spanish words that would be inconceivable of using as a family name in Latin America and the Peninsula such as Ejercito (army). 

The decree (articles 4 & 9) made an exemption, however, for natives of Spanish, indigenous, or Chinese (Sangley) origin who already had surnames. This group included the descendants of Chinese immigrants of the early 19th century who filipinized and transliterated their names by affixing -co or -son to their original Chinese names such as Quintico (the surname of my paternal great-great grandmother, Simeona Quintico); and families with surnames that they have used for at least four generations, as long as these were not among the prevalent ones derived from a saint's name, such as Benipayo (the family name of my paternal grandmother, Florentina Benipayo).  The edict (article 8) also prohibited assuming the names of the native nobility such as Lacandola, Mojica, Tupas or Raja Matanda without proper authorization as these noble lineages enjoyed certain rights.

So on November 21, 1849, to get the ball rolling, Governor Claveria promulgated the dissemination of the Catálogo Alfabético de Apellidos (Alphabetical Catalog of Surnames) throughout the islands. Not everyone ended up receiving a new name though. In some places, many families either managed to elude detection or simply got overlooked because the local officials did a poor job of carrying out the order.

It was a different story in Albay, however, where the authorities efficiently carried out the edict's directives by coming up with a unique and alphabetical way of distributing the Catalog's names throughout the entire province which included Sorsorgon and Catanduanes at that time. Starting from the provincial capital of Albay town (now Legazpi City), which received a list that begins with the letter "A", the officials proceeded to assign names beginning with the letters "B" and "C" to the towns along the Tabaco-Tiwi coast; "D" to the inhabitants of Manito and Bacon; "E" through "L" to the towns that dot the Sorsogon coast; "M" through "S" to the families that live in the areas heading down the Iraya Valley from Daraga through Polangui and Libon; and the remaining letters of the alphabet to the rest of the region and Catanduanes.

As for the residents of Polangui, they received a list of names beginning with the letter "S". To this day, in Polangui, the same last names resound such as: Saunar, Sarte, Samson, Sardalla, Salalima, Samonte, Sabido, and of course Sañosa.

Group Shot before the Party, July 4, 1950 (@ Lucky Press, Manila)

Front Row (L-R): David Gregorio Sañosa, Pedro Benipayo, ?, Jose Sarrion, Eugene Benipayo Sañosa

2nd Row (L-R): child ? , Jesse Balformoso, Efren Sarte, Purita Benipayo Sañosa (Paterno),
Celedonio Alcantara Benipayo, Jose Benipayo Sañosa, Nerisa Bontigao Logronio, family friend (Sylvia La Torre's brother), Rizalina Gregorio Sañosa (Riel)

3rd Row (L-R): Alfredo Benipayo Sañosa, Alfredo Logronio Benipayo, Jose Sañosa Raule , Herminio Sarrion, Johnny Ante,  unknown , Felix Alcantara 

In the case of the Sañosas, they relinquished their Justa, San Jose and Mariano surnames, as the Claveria decree mandated, for a new one on the list, which in archaic Spanish means furious. Gil Vicente, a famous Portuguese playwright in the 1460s who wrote poetry and plays in both Spanish and Portuguese made popular a famous poem mentioning an angry girl. The poem goes like this:

Sañosa está la niña!
¡Ay, Dios!, ¿quién le hablaría?

En la sierra anda la niña
su ganado a repastar,
hermosa como los flores,

Sañosa como la mar está la niña.
¡Ay, Dios!, ¿quién le hablaría?
—Gil Vicente (1465?-1537)

The girl is angry. Oh God, who would speak to her?
The girl goes over the hills, pasturing her flock,
lovely as the flowers, angry as the sea.
The girl is angry as the sea. Oh God, who would speak to her?
- Translated by J.M. Cohen (British translator,1903 - 1989)

Perhaps the Sañosa ancestor who adopted this surname for the entire clan was short-tempered; and thus picked it to let everyone know that he was not to be trifled with; or maybe, he was simply assigned the name which he blindly accepted; or perhaps, he decidedly chose it because it sounded "cool" because of its sonorous Castilian ring. One can only guess.

Clavería y Zaldúa, Narciso. Catálogo Alfabético de Apellidos. 1849. Intro. Domingo Abella. Manila: Philippine National Archives, 1973. FamilySearch Microfiche
Owen, Norman G. About the Claveria Decree. Emails to J. Sañosa. 6 Feb. - 28 March 2012
PhilGen Project. Claveria's Decree on Filipino Surnames,11 Oct. 1997. Web. 4 April 2011.
Registros Parroquiales 1849- 1857. Church of Sts. Peter & Paul, Polangui. FamilySearch Microfiche.
Sañosa Family Oral History.

Special thanks to historian and author, Dr. Norman G. Owen PhD, Honorary Professor at Hong Kong University and Research Professor at Duke University, for additional information about the Claveria decree and his encouragement.

**Surnames are listed in the American/ Filipino style with the mother's maiden name used as a middle name instead of in the Spanish style which designates the mother's maiden name as part of the last name by attaching it to the end of the surname.

U.S./Filipino Style: Eugene Benipayo Sañosa
Spanish Style: Eugene Sañosa Benipayo or its more archaic form Eugene Sañosa y Benipayo

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0 #1 Edwin Coronel Sañosa 2012-03-22 15:21
wow this great.., i am one of the grand son of Vicente Sañosa...

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