Shift in Cultural Naming Practices


In the pre-contact world of native CHamoru people, they held only one name as their first name. Naturally, a native name. During the Spanish occupation of the Mariana Islands, upon the Christianizing of the natives, one’s Christian baptismal name became her/his first name and native name became the last name. You can imagine the modern-day genealogical challenge trying to identify families, when a mother, father, sister and brother all had different last names. Also, when the Spanish government would record a woman’s name, only her maiden name was usually recorded, even if she was already married.

When the U.S. took over Guam, the U.S. Navy discontinued the Spanish convention naming practices (First name, father’s surname, mother’s surname) and required the American style (first name, middle name, father’s surname). So typically, one would find that a mother’s surname was used as a person’s middle name.

For some children born out of wedlock during those early years, I have observed two other different styles of names being recorded. The most common is the child would be named with the mother’s surname twice (first name, middle name = mother’s surname, and last name = mother’s surname).  The other practice would be that the child would simply carry the mother’s full maiden name (first name, middle name = mother’s maternal surname, and last name = mother’s paternal surname).

Enter the 1940 census of Guam and I am seeing another shift in naming practices. For instance, within Sumay village, some parents were naming their children with a Christian/American first name and middle name, but the enumerator also recorded the initials of the mother’s surname.  This appears to be a cultural shift in naming practices where we see the mother’s surname is no longer being used as a person’s middle name.

My Personal Story of Defiance & Peaceful Protest

In my family, there are eight of us siblings, born from as early as the 1950s. Yet, only one of my siblings carry my mother’s maiden surname as her middle name.  The rest of us carry a Christian/American as a middle name. I am one of them. When I was younger, I did not appreciate that name, and could not understand why I did not carry my mother’s name like her, my father, and my sister.

Anyways. When I was 14 years old, I had applied for my Social Security Card so that I could start working at the age of 15. On the application, I took it upon myself and in defiance to record my name as Bernard Cruz Punzalan. Yes, the Social Security application system was very relaxed back then. When my card arrived, my mom opened the envelope, read my card, and then yelled “Benåtdu! What is this? This is not your name!”  So, I asked her, “How come I do not carry your name?”  She told me that my parents gave me the middle name Timothy, in honor of the Priest that married them. I still was not satisfied with her response. I said, “Okay, but I am also a Cruz. How come I do not have Cruz in my name?”  She gave me her piercing eyes while raising her voice, “Benåtdu! Na’ påra!” Which, to me, was basically yelling at me to stop questioning because I was becoming disrespectful to her for questioning their decision. In those days, when you hear an elder yell “Na’ påra,” you really better stop or else…WHACK! 

Needless to say, mom had me fill out another application to correct my name on my social security card. Therefore, in some of my prior employment and school records, I am recorded with two different middle names. Mom was not aware that I had continued to use my Bernard Cruz Punzalan social security card when I worked at other places before I joined the Army.

Who would have known that many moons later I would become the founder and principal researcher for the CHamoru Roots Genealogy Project and doing what I do? LOL.


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