Filipino Culture

Naming

Naming Conventions

The history of Spanish and American colonisation in the Philippines has led Filipino naming conventions to be heavily influenced by both Spanish and Western practices. Filipino names follow the Spanish tradition of using both paternal and maternal surnames, while structuring names according to the Western name order of first name, middle name and surname.

 

  • Filipino naming conventions arrange names as follows: [personal name(s)] [mother’s paternal family name] [father’s paternal family name]. For example, Jose Mario BELLO PINEDA (male) and Maria CRUZ SANTOS (female).
  • The ‘personal name’ (or ‘given name’) is chosen at birth as the individual’s personal identifier. 
  • Some people may have two given names (e.g. Jose Mario), reflecting the Spanish custom of dual names. 
  • The mother’s paternal family name (or maiden name) effectively acts as the person’s ‘middle name’, while the father’s paternal family name operates as the person’s ‘surname’. 
  • Both the middle name and surname names are shared with all other siblings in a family. 
  • Some people may choose to use only the initial of their mother’s maiden name as their middle name (e.g. Jose Mario B. PINEDA).
  • The mother’s maiden name is a legal requirement for Filipino passports and other official documents. Therefore, if a Filipino is born in another country, their mother’s maiden name will automatically be applied to their legal name in the Philippines.   
  • Women tend to change their name at marriage by replacing their maiden middle name with their maiden surname and adopting their husband’s surname instead. For example, if Maria CRUZ SANTOS married Jose Mario BELLO PINEDA, she may be known as Maria SANTOS PINEDA.1 
  • The other two legally recognised ways a woman may adopt a husband’s name is by using her maiden given name and husband’s surname alone (e.g. Maria PINEDA) or by using the husband’s full name with a prefix indicating that she is his wife (e.g. “Mrs.”).2,3
  • Some married Filipino women may choose to hyphenate their maiden surname with their husband’s surname (e.g. Maria SANTOS-PINEDA). Doing so allows others to more easily identify them after marriage and is a common practice in social or professional settings (e.g. email communication). However, this change will not be reflected on legal documentation. 
  • Filipino women are not required to change their name at marriage and some may choose to keep their full maiden name. 
  • In some instances, names may be formatted using the Spanish custom of adding a ‘y’ (meaning “and”) between their mother’s name and father’s name (e.g. Maria CRUZ y SANTOS). However, this custom is generally only used when writing names in very formal settings (e.g. court documents) or by some older Filipinos.

 

Names

  • It is common to carry Spanish given names, especially those that have a biblical origin. Some Filipinos may use Spanish translations of Christian names, such as those of Catholic saints (e.g. Miguel for Michael).  
  • Such biblical names may be drawn from calendars which have a corresponding Catholic saint for each month. Parents pick the name that matches their child’s birth date, and alter it to suit the child’s gender (e.g. Manolito (male) or Manolita (female)).
  • However, traditional Spanish names unrelated to Catholicism (e.g. Corazon, Rosario) have become less popular, viewed as somewhat old fashioned.4
  • English given names tend to be most popular amongst Filipinos today. 
  • It is also common to choose names relating to popular culture. For example, children may share the same name as a rising celebrity or popular politician.
  • According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, the most common given names in 2018 were Nathaniel, James, Jacob, Gabriel, Joshua (male) and Althea, Samantha, Angel, Angela, Princess (female).5 
  • There is a trend of altering the standard spelling of English and Spanish names to make them more unique. For example, Irene becomes Airyn, Charlene becomes Charlyn or Charlin, Janine becomes Johnine, and so on. 
  • Given names may also be an adaptation of Spanish or English names to make them sound more Filipino. For example, Mariano becomes Nano, Edwin becomes Aweng, Roberto becomes Berting, etc.
  • Some Filipino names have been formed by reversing the spelling of a Western name. For example, ‘Dranreb’ is ‘Bernard’ backwards.
  • Filipino women who have ‘Maria’ as one of two given names (e.g. Maria Cristina), may choose to abbreviate it as simply ‘Ma.’ (e.g. Ma. Cristina). Some men may do the same with the name ‘Jose’, although this is less common (e.g. Jose Mario may be known as Jo. Mario).
  • It is common for parents to name male children after their father, adding the suffix ‘Junior’ (abbreviated as ‘Jr.’) to distinguish between the generations.
  • The most common Filipino family names often have a Spanish origin, e.g. SANTOS, REYES, CRUZ, BAUTISTA, GARCIA.6
  • Some surnames may have the prefix ‘de’ or ‘del’ (e.g. DE CASTRO, DEL ROSARIO). While these prefixes originally meant literally “from” or “of”, they are now thought as part of a person’s full family name.7
  • Filipinos with Chinese ancestry may also have a surname derived from Chinese family names, e.g. ‘ONG’ (WANG), ‘TIONG’ (ZANG), ‘AUYONG’ or ’AWYOUNG’ (YANG).
  • Some people may have surnames derived from words in their local language or dialect, such as Tagalog, Visayan (Cebuano and Hiligaynon), Ilocano, Kapampangan and Pangasinan. These surnames often describe a personal characteristic, e.g. ‘DIMAYUGA’ (Tagalog for ‘defiance’).

 

Nicknames

  • Close friends and family tend to refer to one another by nicknames, rather than the full first name. People may have multiple nicknames depending on who is talking to them.
  • A nickname may be an abbreviation of the person’s name, e.g. Mario becomes ‘Mar’, Teresita becomes ‘Teri’.
  • Longer given names may be shortened in various ways. For example, Emmanuel can become Eman, Manual, Manolo, Manny or Manoy.
  • Some nicknames may be created through combining letters and syllables of the person’s full name (e.g. Jose Mario Pineda becomes ‘Jomapi’ or even ‘JP’).8
  • Some people may carry nicknames that were given to them by family members as children (e.g. Baby, Girlie).
  • It is common for someone to have a nickname that is often a repeat of a syllable from that person’s name (e.g. ‘Mon Mon’ as the nickname for ‘Ramon’). This kind of nickname is more affectionate and reserved from close family and friends.
  • Other nicknames may be unrelated to the person’s name, chosen for their aesthetic appeal, sentimental reasons or to describe a characteristic or event. For example, someone who is good at playing cards may be called ‘Joker’.
  • Many Filipinos have English words as their nicknames, e.g. Peanut, Bambi. These may be chosen because they relate to certain themes, such as countries, car trademarks or popular brand names. 
  • In some cases, the meaning of these words may sound peculiar as a nickname to a native English-speaker. However, it is not appropriate to joke about or belittle the name choice. 

 

Addressing Others

  • Friends of the same age or status may address one another using the first name or nickname alone in casual contexts (see Nicknames above). However, it is inappropriate to call someone by a nickname unless you’ve been invited to do so.
  • It is most common to address people using an honorific title that shows politeness and respect. These titles are context specific and vary based on people’s gender, age and social relationship to one another. They usually have familial connotations, such as ‘uncle or ‘aunt’, instead of professional meanings.
  • One typically addresses an elderly men and women as ‘Lolo’ (grandfather) and ‘Lola’ (grandmother), while middle-aged older men and women may be referred to as ‘Tito’ (uncle) and ‘Tita’ (aunt).
  • The terms ‘Kuya’ (elder brother) and ‘Ate’ (elder sister) are used to show respect to any person slightly older than one’s self but of similar status. This is one of the most common ways to refer to acquaintances, colleagues and strangers in daily life (e.g. shop assistants), as well as siblings and cousins. 
  • Titles may be used with a person’s surname, first name or nickname depending on the relationship. For example, a Filipino would likely refer to their aunty using the title ‘Tita’ (aunt) followed by the person’s nickname. Some titles may be used without the person’s name, (e.g. simply ‘Tita’).
  • It is also common to refer to people by their professional title or job description (e.g. lawyer, doctor, engineer, teacher). 
  • Filipinos rarely use a person full name (i.e. Jose Mario BELLO PINEDA) unless in very formal settings. It is more common to drop the middle name and refer to someone by their first name and last name (e.g. Jose Mario PINEDA).9
  • It is best to address people with dual names using both their first names if you don’t know them very well (e.g. Jose Mario). 
  • The middle name (mother’s paternal name) is rarely used in daily life and conversation. It is incorrect to address someone by this name alone.

 

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1 The Philippine Embassy of Canberra, 2013
2 The Manila Times, 2013
3 Philippine Commission on Women, 2021
4 Pineda, 2014
5 Philippines Statistics Authority, 2018
6 Tagalog Lang, 2020
7 Rey, 2020
8 Pineda, 2014
9 Pineda, 2014
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