06 January 2017

Dimaculangan, Dimaunahan, et. al.: the Self-Describing Meanings of the Dima- Surnames in Batangas

In 1849, partly to ensure the accuracy of the collection of tributes from the Indios or Filipino natives, the Spanish Governor-General Narciso Clavería y Zaldúa issued a decree requiring the natives to take surnames for official purposes. For this purpose, the Catálogo Alfabético de Apellidos (Catalogue of Alphabetized Surnames) was published from which families could take surnames that they wished to adopt.1

Majority of the names contained in the catalogue was of Spanish extract, compiled in Madrid from common surnames used in Spain in the nineteenth century. However, also included in the catalogue were names taken from various Philippine languages such as Tagalog, Ilocano, Hiligaynon, Cebuano, Kapampangan and many others. There were also originally Chinese names but spelled the Hispanic way.

Prior to the decree, it goes without saying, the practice of giving names by native Filipinos was not standardized at all. Penelope V. Flores, Professor Emeritus of the University of San Francisco, in an article wrote about how native Filipinos were named prior to the decree.

They could be named, she wrote, after the characteristics of the area where they lived, and gave the example Kato Guinobatan as possible for somebody who lived in a forested area. Then, there was the practice of naming a person as the child or grandchild of somebody; and Flores gave as examples Apo ni Tuliao and Apo ni Lagmay. Finally, a person could also be named after a distinctive characteristic such as Bertong Bukol or Juan Duling.2

When Claveria’s decree was promulgated, majority of Filipinos took Spanish surnames. Tingting Cojuanco, in an article on the Philippine Star, described the process: “Each cabeza de barangay was called to be present with his constituents. The person who chose a surname was the oldest or the father of each family.3

There were some exceptions, according to an article by Arnaldo Arnaiz, and these were “the direct descendants of ancient rulers (i.e., Mojica, Tupas etc.)” along with members of the Tagalog nobility such as those with names like Gatmaitan and Hilario.4

Some historians think that the decree was implemented less to Hispanize the Filipino natives but more to improve government administration, particularly the collection of taxes. Hence, Cojuanco wrote further, families were allowed to keep their existing family names if they could provide genealogy that they had kept the same family names for at least four generations. In other words, if they were already in the Spanish colonial government’s records.

Because of this provision, Cojuanco said, many families in Pampanga, Laguna and Batangas did not take on Spanish surnames. This explains why, in Batangas, many families carry Tagalog-sounding names; and if you hear these same surnames in other parts of the country, you can almost wager that these people can trace their roots back to Batangas.

Among the Tagalog-sounding surnames that abound in Batangas, perhaps the most peculiar are those that are prefixed by the Tagalog syllables “dima” (directly translated, “cannot be”). It is as though, to add another category to those already enumerated by Flores, it was customary in pre-Claveria times among some Tagalog if not altogether Batangueño families to name themselves after a distinguishing characteristic probably expected of all members of the family or clan.

In a way, there is even an element of braggadocio to the names, as though they are embodiments of the humorous Batangueño saying “mawala na ang yaman huwag lang ang yabang” (loosely, “better to lose one’s wealth than one’s pride, cockiness or boastfulness). One realizes this if one tries to discern the meanings of the names, whether in Tagalog or English.

For instance, Dimaapi is “cannot be maltreated.” The name carries a veiled threat, even; as though a warning to others not to mistreat members of the family. Dimaunahan is “cannot be bested,” perhaps in a race or even in a metaphorical sense. Dimayuga was probably “dima-uga” or “cannot be shaken.”

Another fairly ubiquitous name, Dimaculangan, may be “cannot be cheated or shortchanged.” Dimacuha is “cannot be taken.” Dimapasok or its Hispanized version Dimapasoc is “cannot be entered or breached.” Dimatatac was probably “dimatatakan” or “cannot be marked or labeled.” The Hispanized Dimayacyac was probably “dimayakyak” or “cannot be thrashed.” Dimalanta is “cannot be withered.”

Other dima-prefixed surnames may sound odd particularly as we do not really know the context of how they were given. For instance, Dimaano is “cannot be what.” In conversational Tagalog, “ano” is also used as a substitute for just about anything. However, in a euphemistic sense, it can also mean “to touch.” Does Dimaano, then, mean “cannot be touched?”

Then there is Dimaisip, which is “cannot be thought of” and, therefore, may even sound self-deprecating. However, if you twist the context, it can also be that it was trying to tell others of a superiority that you “cannot wrap your mind around.” Naturally, I am only guessing.

This is not to say that all dima-prefixed Filipino surnames are from Batangas. For instance, my college football coach back in the seventies was Ilonggo and his surname was Dimasuay. That said, “suay” sounds a lot like the Tagalog “suway” or to cross or disobey. Who is to say that his forebears were also once not from the Tagalog area if not Batangas?

There are also dima-prefixed surnames that I do not really recognize as from Batangas: Dimasacupan (cannot be conquered), Dimataga (cannot be cut with a weapon) and Dimarucot (cannot be abducted), among others. But then again, I am from Lipa. There may be families with these surnames in nooks and crannies of Batangas that I do not frequent.

There are also dima-prefixed surnames that I cannot even translate because they are either archaic Tagalog or my knowledge of Batangas dialect is insufficient: Dimapilis (what is pilis?), Dimailig (what is ilig, or was this originally Dimahilig?), Dimaala (what is ala, or is this a variant of Dimawala?), Dimaandal (what is andal?) and Dimalaluan (what is laluan?)5.

Notes and References:
1 Catálogo alfabético de apellidos, Wikipedia
2 “How Filipinos Got Their Surnames” by Penelope V. Flores, online at Positively Filipino.
3 “What’s in a Filipino Surname?” by Tingting Cojuangco, online at the Philippine Star.
4 “Glimpse at the Origins of Filipino Sur3names” by Arnaldo Arnaiz, online at With One’s Past.
5 All dima-prefixed names in this article, online at World Vital Records.

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