Joseph’s Church Inalåhan. Micronesian Area Research Center (MARC) collection.

A relatively recent development

Traditionally, CHamorus 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 within 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 CHamoru surnames in the Mariana Islands. A list of surnames in these documents, many of which are the forerunners of modern CHamoru surnames, follows. The spellings may have some discrepancies because there was no official orthography for the CHamoru language when this was written in 1984.

These surnames with their approximate definitions are:

Ge’hilu’Further upTainahungNever satisfied or enough
GuailayiTo have reason forGaulafnaHis or her full moon
MasanganTo be said or spoken offTalinaHis or her rope
Sagua’naHis or her channelNilemlimSurprised or astonished
Goftalu’Exactly in the middle or centerTai’igiNo comparison
Ega’ga’To urge to act uponTasinaHis or sea or ocean
MamaisaTo be aloneTaikanuTo have nothing to eat
TaisaguiNo holding or not attachedAtdaunaHis or her light or sunlight
Na’lahuTo cause to walkManpagatTo be admonished or advised
ChattunguLittle knowledge ofMa’i’utNarrow opening
MaktusTo split or cut offMafa’taTo be presented before
GoflachiExtremely at fault or incredibly wrongManaitaiTo be read or to pray
Ke’gachaTo try to step onTatmaulikNot too good
Ke’na’anTo try to reach intoKe’poksaiTo try to rear or raise
Taga’naHis or her splitMehgaiA lot off or bountiful
Ke’takaTo try to reach intoTaichiguNo juice or liquid
Na’yauyauTo shake or to cause to quiverInayikThe chosen one
SumainaHis or her soak or place of soakingKe’tahguiTo substitute for
Tano’naHis or her landMafakCracked or fragmented
TaimangluNo windApuAsh
Tai’asi’No pity or lacking warmth forChata’anNot clear day or sensitive
SamaiBeautifulKe’kanuTo try to eat
Ke’fanaTo try to face or to confrontFahalangTo try to cause lonliness
GoguiTo safe or to secureMafa’tahgulTo disregard someone’s presence
BaubauShaky or quiveringAchaiguaSimilar to
MasgaHad enough off or satiatedNapunaHis or her wave
AsonnaHis or her resting areaTaifa’gasNo place for cleansing
MatunaBlessedTaifinuNo words or remarks for
TatlumahiNot manlyTai’iyuNo possession of
ChatsagaNot in place or with little economic wealthMauleknaIt is better
Ke’ta’luTo try againTaifalakNo direction or no destination
TaisungsungNo plugger or without a stopperTaigachungNo comparison or friendship
TaiguahaWithout possessionSamailhiThe beautiful male
Fa’tangisTo create or make like tearsTatmahalangLittle longing for
Na’ayauTo lendTaigualuNo farmfield
MasaCookedFa’chalikTo ridicule or make fun of
TaimagungNo cureMatangsiTo weep for
LaguaNetMatayaTo be without
HanumWaterKe’tuguaTo cause to fall
TaisahyanNo transportationGofsainaTo be paternalistic or materialistic
Tatpa’guLittle beautyMa’asiTo have pity for
Taina’anNo name or referenceTaisakanNo harvest of not of age

US Naval period

There are a number of traditional CHamoru 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, who was commonly called “Trudis Aleman” by the CHamorus, spoke CHamoru fluently.

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

AfaisenTo 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 
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 CHamoru 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 CHamoru word. It is also a distinguished CHamoru 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 “Malia Ramirez

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