The origin of Filipino family names


Up to now, I’m still wondering what my family name means. Am I related to Mr So-and-So? Or, to this famous music composer?

I’m not sure. I haven’t ventured into tracing my family tree. Should I undertake a genealogical study of my family name’s origin.

After reading Mr Renato Perdon’s account of how Filipino family names came to usage, I don’t think I have the resources.

Mr Perdon in a chapter of his book Brown Americans of Asia wrote that when Governor-General Narciso Claveria was the head of the Spanish colonial government, he issued on November 21, 1849 a decree called Catalogo Alfabetico de Appelidos (Alphabetised Catalogue of Surnames) which mandated the adoption of surnames.

“The decree was to correct the capricious habit of Filipinos to adopt the names of saints that resulted in the existence of individuals having the same surnames, although unrelated. This habit also caused confusion that “hindered the implementation of regulations governing the administration of justice, public service, finance and public order. Claveria also noted that because of the situation, it became impossible to prove the degree of blood relations between parties to a marriage.

“The catalogue of family names also adopted names from the vegetable and mineral kingdoms, geography, arts and others. Pages from this catalogue were sent to all provincial governors who distributed them to the mayors of various towns. Every town, in accordance with the number of families within its jurisdiction, was assigned a number of surnames arranged according to letters.

In spite of the rigidity of implementing the decree, accidents happened. In some places, only a few pages of the catalogue arrived. This is the reason why, even today, in many towns of the Philippines, there are people whose surnames almost all begin with a letter A, others B and so on.”

Mr Perdon, a historian, curator, teacher, and cultural heritage consultant, concluded: “Without knowing both the old and the new surnames, it would be impossible to record a family tree beyond 1849.”

Where would this leave us now?

I’m not sure. One thing is sure, though. Whether we like it or not, we, Filipinos, have to live with the consequences of this historical accident.

But, if you are really desperate to have an Anglo-Celtic surname, by all means— do so. In Australia, it takes only a deed poll to do that.

Romy Cayabyab is the publisher of


Posted: 12 Apr 2006 (

Re-posted: 23 July 2007

Updated: 8 December 2009

About Romeo Zamora Cayabyab

Romeo Zamora Cayabyab is a Sydney-based audit consultant and web publisher.


  1. I am a Cayabyab, and am pleased to know that my family name means “fellow grain pounder.” So can I take it that originally it was spelled out as Ka-yabyab?

  2. My middle name is Cayabyab. Nice to know there are other people having that name aside from Ryan 😉

  3. hi.. im maiden cayabyab.. nice knowing you all..

  4. Hi. My last name is Cayabyab. I am related to Ryan Cayabyab. He is my grandpa’s cousin. I don’t know which one though. I have always been trying to find what my last name means.

  5. We like to believe that Cayabyab used to be spelled out as Kayabyab (or Ka-yabyab) which means companion rice pounder accdg to ‘Katalogo ng mga Apelyidong Pilipino.?

  6. my last name is cayabyab my family is from the phillipines i always wanted to know what my name meant who all my relatives are.

  7. @carlos
    To know your relatives, start with your parents. Ask them who their brothers and sisters are, their names, where they are now and other information that will help you in your search. To make it easy for you to record these and develop a tree, you can use the Family Tree builder in this site.

  8. hi my family last name is Gayagay always wanted to know its meaning and origins thanks

    • eugene codiamat says:

      johnny closest word that i can find in my languages is gayagay is in pangasinan which means “happiness of or fun of”. be it known that one
      of very common words in bibak dialects is pangasinan…foremost is ilokano. you probably came family of entertainers.

  9. @jhonny
    One of the earlier studies of Filipino family names noted that Gayagay originated from the BIBAAK region. Other than that , we could not find other references. But other readers, especially those from the BIBAAK provinces (Benguet, Ifugao, Bontoc, Abra, Apayao, Kalinga) know what “Gayagay” means. Hope this helps.

  10. My mother’s maiden name is Cayabyab. Does this make us all related in some long distance way?

  11. eduardo cayabyab says:

    iam eduardo cayabyab, ang province ko ay sa bayambang pangasinan, barangay tanulong. alam ko doon ang mga ankan ko. salahat ng mga cayabyab mabuhay tayo lahat

  12. To all the Cayabyabs who posted their comments and feedback, maraming salamat. I like to trace our roots. Knowing that the Cayabyabs are known to have come from Pangasinan and Tarlac, palagay ko magka-kamaganak tayo.

    • eugene codiamat says:

      if indeed cayabyab originated from pangasinan. pangasinenses are known fishermen or their livelihood is somehow connected to the sea
      which they call it “baybay”… so most likely with all due respect
      it’s really “kabaybay” which means “fellow of the sea”…also pangasinensis are very creative … maybe by chance they change it to
      “kayabyab” to make it look different…whatever it maybe names are trademark like toyota…in pangasinan ilokanos does the ricefields.
      btw i’m pangasinan but i haven’t heard word “yabyab”…grain pounder is
      “managbayo”. cheers!

  13. Cindy Ona Cayabyab says:

    Hi Everyone! My name is Cindy Cayabyab. For the longest time I have been wondering about my last name and the root history of it. I have a REALLYYYY BIG family in California with the last name Cayabyab and no one seems to know where the last name originated from. All I know is that I have great-grandparents who immgrated from Spain to the Philippines and that I am 1/4 Spanish (and even perhaps Portuguese?) I hope to find more answers while I’m still young! hehe. :)

    • Diomerson Marvin Cayabyab says:

      hello I am also a Cayabyab from California. My family is small which consist of just my dads siblings. They are from the Bay Area, my dads is from San Diego. But they say we also have second cousins in vallejo too.

  14. Kumusta fellow Cayabyabs. I am a Filipino-American Cayabyab. It’s funny that I always get asked if I am related to Ryan Cayabyab. As far as I know, I am not.

    Romy, thanks for sharing the info about the link between Cayabyabs and Pangasinan, I did not know that! Interestingly, both my parents are from Pangasinan (my Mother is a Cruz however), which supports Cayabyab originating in the Pangasinan region.

    I happen to understand more Pangasinan than Tagalog, as growing up this was the primary language my folks used to speak to each other, however they only ever spoke to my siblings and I in English. It would be nice to someday become fluent conversationally in Pangasinan, let alone Tagalog.

    In my search to find the meaning of Cayabyab, I too was pleased to find out that Cayabyab means “fellow grain pounder.” -Which should be interesting to illustrate as I am conceptualizing a personal coat of arms. I also found out that Cayabyab is on the list of “Truly Filipino Names”:

  15. awit21 says:

    hi, i am also interested with this website. My M.A. thesis is regarding the Clan of Marikina. Every April Marikina is celebrating Ka-Angkan Festival, try to visit them because they have clan tree.

  16. Alvin Cayabyab says:

    hi everyone!

    im 2Lt alvin cayabyab of the philippine air force.

    i just graduated in the philippine military academy last year.

    it would be great if i could contact you all.

    my cp number: 09168863203

  17. ariel Cayabyab says:

    hello sa mga cayabyab around the world! ako si ariel cayabyab ng sta. maria bulacan. ang father ko ay taga pangasinan, pero hindi pa k nakakarating dun, i wonder if may nakaka kilala pa sakin lalo na sa mga tita ko sa makati.

    god bless all cayabyab out there! thanks.


  19. noel cayabyab says:

    According to my grandfather his family came from San Carlos,Pangasinan..though he was born in the province of Tarlac (where my great grandfather settled to raise his family)…I do hope to learn more about my Family’s roots =) Salamat po

  20. Hi, I’m trying to find my grandmothers family. She was born in 1899 in Bayambang, Pangasinan, Philippines. Her name is Marcella Cayabyab. Grandma told me that her father was a soldier from Spain and also that he was a musician. According to her marriage certificate her fathers name is Agustin and her mothers name was Filomena. Are there any cousins from the Philippines out there. I would love to find more about our family.

  21. Benjamin A. Sagaysay says:

    Hi my name is Benjamin A. Sagaysay jr. I am a descendant of the surname Delacruz on the philippines, I am trying to trace my roots back to my ancestors and why our name got changed! I would like to find out more if anyone can help me! My grandfathers name is casimero Ancheta Sagaysay, born march 4th 1908 in P.I. Died in Maui Hawaii 1998…..

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