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A relatively recent development

Traditionally, Chamorros didn’t have surnames. Each person was known by a first name and was probably referred to also according to his clan name. When the Spanish missionaries baptized someone, he or she was christened with a name of a saint. Whatever that person’s first name was became his surname. This explains why there is no continuity of surnames even withn the same nuclear family.

The three earliest censuses of the Mariana Islands were in 1710, 1727 and 1759. These documents, called the “Archivo General de Indias,” were obtained by the Micronesian Area Research Center at the University of Guam. The original documents are located in Sevilla, Spain.

Both the 1727 Census and 1759 Census record the earliest traditional Chamorro surnames in the Mariana Islands. A list of surnames in these documents, many of which are the forerunners of modern Chamorro surnames, follows. The spellings may have some discrepancies because there was no official orthography for the Chamorro language when this was written in 1984.

These surnames with their approximate definitions are:

Traditional Chamorro Surnames

Ge’hilu’, “Further up”
Guailayi, “To have reason for”
Masangan, “To be said or spoken off”
Sagua’na, “His or her channel”
Goftalu’, “Exactly in hte middle or center”
Ega’ga’, “To urge to act upon”
Mamaisa, “To be alone”
Taisagui, “No holding or not attached”
Na’lahu, “To cause to walk”
Chattungu, “Little knowledge of”
Maktus, “To split or cut off”
Goflachi, “Extremely at fault or incredibly wrong”
Ke’gacha, “To try to step on”
Ke’na’an, “To try to reach into”
Taga’na, “His or her split”
Ke’taka, “To try to reach into”
Na’yauyau, “To shake or to cause to quiver”
Sumaina, “His or her soak or place of soaking”
Tano’na, “His or her land”
Taimanglu, “No wind”
Tai’asi’, “No pity or lacking warmth for”
Samai, “Beautiful”
Ke’fana, “To try to face or to confront”
Gogui, “To safe or to secure”
Baubau, “Shaky or quivering”
Masga, “Had enough off or satiated”
Asonna, “His or her resting area”
Matuna, “Blessed”
Tatlumahi, “Not manly”
Chatsaga, “Not in place or with little economic wealth”
Ke’ta’lu, “To try again”
Taisungsung, “No plugger or without a stopper”
Taiguaha, “Without possession”
Fa’tangis, “To create or make like tears”
Na’ayau, “To lend”
Masa, “Cooked”
Taimagung, “No cure”
Lagua, “Net”
Hanum, “Water”
Taisahyan, “No transportation”
Tatpa’gu, “Little beauty”
Taina’an, “No name or reference”
Tainahung, “Never satisfied or enough”
Gaulafna, “His or her fullmoon”
Talina, “His or her rope”
Nilemlim, “Surprised or astonished”
Tai’igi, “No comparison”
Tasina, “His or sea or ocean”
Taikanu, “To have nothing to eat”
Atdauna, “His or her light or sunlight”
Manpagat, “To be admonished or advised”
Ma’i’ut, “Narrow opening”
Mafa’ta, “To be presented before”
Manaitai, “To be read or to pray”
Tatmaulik, “Not too good”
Ke’poksai, “To try to rear or raise”
Mehgai, “A lot off or bountiful”
Taichigu, “No juice or liquid”
Inayik, “The chosen one”
Ke’tahgui, “To substitute for”
Mafak, “Cracked or fragmented”
Apu, “Ash”
Chata’an, “Not clear day or sensitive”
Ke’kanu, “To try to eat”
Fahalang, “To try to cause lonliness”
Mafa’tahgul, “To disregard someone’s presence”
Achaigua, “Similar to”
Napuna, “His or her wave”
Taifa’gas, “No place for cleansing”
Taifinu, “No words or remarks for”
Tai’iyu, “No possession of”
Maulekna, “It is better”
Taifalak, “No direction or no destination”
Taigachung, “No comparison or friendship”
Samailhi, “The beautiful male”
Tatmahalang, “Little longing for”
Taigualu, “No farmfield”
Fa’chalik, “To ridicule or make fun of”
Matangsi, “To weep for”
Mataya, “To be without”
Ke’tugua, To cause to fall”
Gofsaina, “To be paternalistic or materialistic”
Ma’asi, “To have pity for”
Taisakan, “No harvest of not of age”

U.S. Naval period

There are a number of traditional Chamorro surnames that have survived today. Most have been recorded and defined by Laura Thompson, an American anthropologist who visited Guam before World War II. She was assisted by Gertrude Costenoble Hornbostel, a German who migrated to the Mariana Islands during the German administration along with her husband, Hans Hornbostel. Gertrude, or commonly called by the Chamorros “Tudis Aleman,” spoke Chamorro fluently.

The following traditional Chamorro surnames appear in Thompson and Hornbostel’s works. Some of the surnames with their traditional orthography are:

Afaisen, “To ask each other”
Charguilla, (Chatguiya) “Not physically well”
Charguane, (Chatguani) “Excretion not removed”
Atao, (Atau) “To give each other”
Gumataotao, (Guma’tautau) “House of people”
Hokog (Hokuk) “No more, empty, completed”
Mata, “Eye”
Manajane (Manai’ani) “No day, no spirit”
Maanao, (Ma’anau) “Frighten”
Quinene, (Kineni’) “To be taken away or from”
Quichocho (Ke’cho’cho’) “To remove from a hiding place, associated with fishing”
Taifino, (Taifinu’) “Lacking expression or words for”
Taijito (Taihitu) “No lice”

It is interesting to note that all the traditional Chamorro surnames are either action or descriptive words. Names of fishes or plants are not associated with individuals.

Note from the author

This entry was originally written for the “La Sangri Yama” series. I am especially proud of my work entitled the “Taitano Families of the Marianas Islands.” Taitano is the only surname in my bloodline that is a Chamorro word. It is also a distinguished Chamorro family group with a rich oral history.

The surname, Taitano, is a compound word. The morphological structure is “tai” which means “non” or no.” “Tanu” means “land” or “earth.” In literal translation, Taitano, denotes “The landless.” This surname appears in the early historical documents and was originally spelled “Taytano.”

The spelling of most surnames in the Mariana Islands was changed according to the historical documents, especially during the early American Naval Administration of Guam in 1898.

By Anthony Ramirez

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