The “Better-Known-As” system

Chamorros have developed a way of identifying people other than their given names. Whether this “better known as” system came about because it was difficult to keep track of people due to many people having the same saint’s names, or from old clan names, can only be speculated upon.

The following “better known as” names are placed in categories according to various references.

References to the derivative of first names

Eka derived from Rebecca/Blas
‘Ela derived from Manuela/Pangelinan
Dero derived from Desidero/Blaz
Ginya derived from Juana/Perez
Chedu’ derived from Pedro/Benavente
Api’ derived from Rafael/Pangelinan
Lafit derived from Rafael/Borja
Idu’ derived from Eduviges/Martinez
Kaila derived from Micaila/Duenas
Atdut derived from Salvador/Lujan
Te’ derived from Jose/Sablan
Sauru derived from Rosauro/Cruz
Goyu derived from Gregorio/Perez
Binu’ derived from Balvino/Leon Guerrero
Sinda derived from Redocinda/ Eustaquio
Ingu’ derived from Domingo/Cruz
Nandu derived from Fernando/Peredo
Gabit derived from Gabriel/Pereda
Bete derived from Sylvestre/Palomo

References to the derivative of surnames

Kottis derived from Cortez/Torres
Teyu derived from Tello
Desa derived from Deza/Camacho
Safra derived from Zafra
Robat derived from Roberts/Roberto

References to place names

Manila/de la Torre
Sambaguenu derived from Zamboanga/Borja
Umatak derived from Umatac/Garrido

References to animals

Karabau/Carabao refers to Champaco or Quitigua
Nganga’/Duck refers to Rosario or Santos
Manuk/Chicken refers to Santos
Lalu’/Fly refers to Rivera/Rosario
Alimasak/Crab refers to San Nicolas
Balaku/Boar refers to Ada
Binado/Deer refers to Gumataotao
Kichu/Fish refers to Lizama
Chaka/Rat refers to Aguon
Ga’lagu/Dog refers to Lizama
Atu’/Swamp fish refers to Guzman

References to descriptive actions or quality

Potput/Swollen refers to Mendiola
Pinalala/Press for time refers to Flores
Chetun/Stuck refers to Santos
Minikus/Mucus-filled refers to Santos
Lodu/Chubby refers to Castro
Tugung/Charge forward refers to Blas
Bodik/Lytico refers to Ada
Mafongfung/To be pounded refers to Manibusan
Makaka/Itchy refers to Aguon
Anaku/Elongated refers to Cruz
Chungi/Gray hair or white refers to Fernandez
Manaitai/To pray or to read refers to Santos
Bachit/Blind refers to Pangelinan
Agaga’/Red refers to Cruz
Basnak/To fall down or stumble refers to Gumataotao
Buchi/Swollen neck refers to Cepeda
Kadada/Short refers to Castro
Kohu/Limping refers to Taitano or Mendiola
Gutus/To split off refers to Mendiola
Lachi/At fault refers to Aguon
Badu/Hunchback refers to de Leon
Yomuk/Fat, obese refers to Leon Guerrero

References to objects

Pistola/Pistol refers to Guzman
Ganggochi/Gunny Sack refers to Cruz
Galaidi’/Canoe refers to Sablan
Apu/Ashes refers to Flores
Bibik/Whistle refers to Santos
Bakalu/Crutch refers to Torres
Tali/Rope refers to Santos

References to food

Titiyas/Tortillas refers to Quinata
Sibollas/Onions refers to Rosario
Kamachili refers to Arceo
Chada/Eggs refers to Cruz
Dagu/Wild yam refers to Flores Gadu’
Doni’/Pepper refers to Pereda
Fadang/Federico palm refers to Crisostomo
Poto/Rice desert refers to Palomo
Tuba/Liquor from coconut refers to Guerrero

Other references to status, body parts and other categories

Kabesa/Leader refers to Flores
Alkatdi/Mayor refers to Camacho
Bobu/Spring refers to Benavente
Gualafun/Full moon refers to Chargualaf
Gugat/Muscle refers to Santos

Note from the author

Oral information is essential to the study of Chamorro genealogy. It is extremely vital that a researcher attempts to acquire the knowledge of informed elders for family genealogies. I was fortunate to have the cooperation of my own elders.

There was, however, one problem that I encountered from the information that I solicited. I am of the post-war generation of Chamorros. Traditionally Chamorros did not have a surname. Upon the arrival of the Spaniards and through the introduction of religion and civil government, surnames were assigned to each individual. Even with the introduction of the surname system for the purposes of documentation, the Chamorro families never fully adopted the system.

It was accepted, but never practiced, to address commonly the various family lineages. Even today most Chamorro families are known primarily by their unofficial family clan references. As a result, most Chamorro families have adopted a reference of the “better-known-as” system. It is important to have knowledge of these family clan references especially in obtaining genealogical information from recognized informants. There were several occasions when the informant only knew the individual according to his clan reference. I often had to resort to other informants to acquire the surname.

Again, I am of the post-war generation of Chamorros. Although I learned of certain family clan references, I was not knowledgeable of the majority of family nicknames.

To illustrate this system take the Chamorro family surname Sablan. There are several branches of the Sablans today that are referred to as “Ramases de “Te’,” “Deda’,” “Katingting,” “Dongga,” and “Teleforo.” These references are applied to the person’s first name. If there are four Juans in each branch, each will be addressed as “Juan Te’,” “Juan Deda’,” “Juan Katingting,” and “Juan Donggat.”

The “better-known-as” system is still widely used in the Chamorro society especially in the obituary announcements and political advertisements. There are various categories that designate each family according to either the surnames, derivative of first names, actions, objects, status, occupation, and names of animals or plants. Several references are so descriptive and humorous that oftentimes the present generation despises the descriptive attributes.

I collected a few of these “better-known-as” attributes with the assistance of my father, and my generous friend, Pedro Diaz Perez of the Ramas de Gollo family. Since this was written before there was an official orthography in Chamorro I resorted to my own intuition of the phonology and symbol correspondences of the Chamorro language.

By Anthony Ramirez

Editor’s note: Originally written for the Liberation Day booklet on the 40th anniverary of the Liberation of Guam.