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Understanding The Different Chinoy Surnames

Have you ever wondered how some Chinese in the Philippines has long or Spanish surnames? Personally, this has made me confused as I was taught to believe that when the surname is short, that person is either Chinese or Korean as they have one syllable per character. For context, if you’re curious as to how long the Chinoy lineage is, the world’s first Chinatown was actually established in Manila in the year 1594 and in 1861, a villager from the Chinese province of Fujian, sailed across the West Philippine Sea to start a new life in the Spanish colony of the Philippines.

A huge number of Chinese who lived during the Spanish naming edict adopted Spanish name formats, along with a Spanish name (e.g., Florentino Cu y Chua). Some adopted their entire Chinese name as a surname for the entire clan (e.g., Jose Antonio Chuidian from Shiu Tien or Chuy Dian; Alberto Cojuangco from 許寰哥, Khó-hoân-ko). These people were called Chinese mestizos and they, as well as some Chinese who chose to completely assimilate into the Filipino or Spanish culture, adopted Spanish surnames. This is why you can see plenty of Chinoys with Spanish surnames such as Mendoza, Cruz, Ortega, Peña, Valencia, etc.

Chinese Mestiza Photo courtesy of Sepia Era

Chinese migrants who came later during the American Colonial Period uses a combination of an adopted Spanish (sometimes English) name together with their Chinese name (e.g., Carlos Palanca Tan Quin Lay or Vicente Go Tam Co). This trend continued up until the late 1970s.

With exposure to the Americans, as well as the number of Filipino-Chinese that were educated in English increased, the use of English names among Chinoys started to increase as well. Popular names among the second generation Chinese community included English names ending in “-son” or other Chinese-sounding suffixes, such as Jackson, Anderson, Emerson, etc. It was becoming a trend that Chinoy parents who are already in the third or fourth generation had English names such as Ethan, Austin, John, etc. It is thus not unusual to find a young Chinoy with an English name whose father’s name ends with a “-son” and whose grandfather’s name with their entire clan as their surname. This reflects the depth of the English language in the Philippine society as a whole.

Filipino-Chinese whose ancestors came to the Philippines from 1898 onward usually have single syllable Chinese surnames, the most common of which are Tan (陳), Ong (王), Lim (林), Go/Ngo (吳), Ng/Uy/Wong (黃), Gao/Kao (高), Chua/Cua (蔡), Sy/See/Si (施), Co (許), Lee/Dy (李), Ang/Hong/Hung (洪), Ching/Chong (莊), Sin (辛), Yao (姚), and Yap (葉)

Today, it can be difficult to identify who is Filipino-Chinese based on surnames alone as there are a lot of Chinoys nowadays with Filipino or Spanish surnames such as Bautista, Santos, Garcia, etc.

Around the 1900s, there was a common phenomenon among Chinese migrants in the Philippines that would purchase surnames during the American Colonial Period when the Chinese Exclusion Act was applied to the Philippines. Such law led new Chinese migrants to ‘purchase’ the surnames of Filipinos and thus pass off as long time Filipino residents of Chinese descent, or as ethnic Filipinos. In fact, many also ‘purchased’ the Alien Landing Certificates of other Chinese who have gone back to China and assumed his surname and/or identity. Sometimes, younger Chinese migrants would circumvent the Act through adoption – wherein a Chinese with Philippine nationality adopts a relative or a stranger as his own children, thereby giving the adoptee automatic Filipino citizenship – and a new surname.

On the other hand, most Filipino Chinese whose ancestors came to the Philippines prior to 1898 use a Hispanicized surname. Thus, many Filipinos who have Hispanicized Chinese surnames are no longer full Chinese but are now called Chinese mestizos. These people usually have multiple syllable Chinese surnames such as Aliangan (from liang/gan), Angkeko (from ang/ke/co/kho), Chuacuco, Chuatoco, Ciacho (from Sia), Cinco (from Go), Cojuangco, Dysangco, Gokongwei, Yuchengco,and Licauco among such others. These were originally Chinese names which were transliterated into Spanish and adopted as surnames.

There are also multiple syllable Chinese surnames that are Spanish transliterations of Hokkien words. Surnames like Tuazon (Eldest Grandson, 大孫), Dizon (Second Grandson, 二孫), Samson/Sanson (Third Grandson, 三孫), Sison (Fourth Grandson, 四孫), Gozon (Fifth Grandson, 五孫), Lacson (Sixth Grandson, 六孫) are examples of transliterations of designations that use the Hokkien suffix -son (孫) used as surnames for some Filipino Chinese who trace their ancestry from Chinese immigrants to the Philippines during the Spanish Colonial Period. The surname “Son/Sun” (孫) is listed in the classic Chinese text Hundred Family Surnames, perhaps shedding light on the Hokkien suffix -son used here as a surname alongside with an accompanying generation enumeration. Besides the transliterations, some Chinese who survived the massacre in Manila during the 1700s migrated to the other parts of the Philippines and added “son”, “zon”, or “co” to hide their identity (e.g. Guanzon = Guan/Kwan = 关孫 (Cantonese), Tiongson/Tiongzon = Tiong = 钟孫 (Hokkien), Tingson/Tingzon = Ting = 陈孫).

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