““Must a name mean something?” Alice asked doubtfully.

Of course it must,” Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh; “my name means the shape I am – and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you might be any shape, almost.”” – Lewis Carroll

So what’s in a name? I know William Shakespeare, philosophers and psychologists have varied answers to that question, but I have come across only few noteworthy discussions on how relevant a name is in the Filipino context.


Local articles would almost always refer to how our country got the name Philippines from Filipinas, try to explain the history of or highlight the humor behind repetitive Filipino nicknames like Ai-Ai or Len-Len.

Names take on a significant note when you want to be distinguished from the pack (“I am not Mr. Barthy Espino. I am Mr. Barthy Espino, VII”), try to fit in a social group (“You are an Ayala-Zobel, yes?”), when you apply for a job (“Did her name have a hit with the NBI?”), when you enter politics (“Binay, who?”) or when you simply want to be infamous (“My name is Janet Lim Napoles.”).

A person’s name is a word — or combination of words –by which he is known and identified, and distinguished from others, for the convenience of the world at large in addressing him, or in speaking of or dealing with him. It is both of personal as well as public interest that every person must have a name. This was according to the Philippine Supreme Court in the case of Republic vs. Hernandez, G.R. No. 117209, February 9, 1996.

The Supreme Court further stated that the name of an individual has two parts:



“The given or proper name and the surname or family name. The given or proper name is that which is given to the individual at birth or at baptism, to distinguish him from other individuals. The surname or family name is that which identifies the family to which he belongs and is continued from parent to child. The given name may be freely selected by the parents for the child, but the surname to which the child is entitled is fixed by law.

By law, a person’s birth must be entered in the civil register. The official name of a person is that given him in the civil register. That is his name in the eyes of the law.And once the name of a person is officially entered in the civil register, the law further seals that identity with its precise mandate: no person can change his name or surname without judicial authority.
This statutory restriction is premised on the interest of the State in names borne by individuals and entities for purposes of identification. This has been recognized by the Supreme Court as early as 1996, in the case of Chiu Hap Chiu vs. Republic, L-20018.

Your surname becomes even more relevant when we speak of the subject of marriage. Men become euphoric at the prospect of propagating their “own” family name. On the other hand, women are culturally expected to take on their husbands’ family names after marriage, signifying the end of the lineage of one’s maiden name.

The latter is not always the case.

Women in the Philippines have a choice on which surname to use after marriage, although a lot of them do not realize it.

Title XIII of the Civil Code of the Philippines governs the use of surnames. In the case of a married woman, Article 370 of the Civil Code provides:

ART. 370. A married woman may use:


For someone named, say, Kris Aquino, after marriage to a James Yap (names used for educational purposes), she maychoose to use any of the following names based on law: 1) Kris Aquino Yap, 2) Kris Yap or 3) Mrs. James Yap.

But the law uses the operative word “may”. This means that a married woman may choose to change her surname, or MAY CHOOSE NOT TO, thus another married name option: Kris Aquino.

The Supreme Court of the Philippines, in the case of Remo vs. The Honorable Secretary of Foreign Affairs, G.R. No. 169202, March 5, 2010, had the occasion to explain the relevance of one’s surname especially in the context of marriage. According to this case:

“Clearly, a married woman has an option, but not a duty, to use the surname of the husband in any of the ways provided by Article 370 of the Civil Code. She is therefore allowed to use not only any of the three names provided in Article 370, but also her maiden name upon marriage.


Further, this interpretation is in consonance with the principle that surnames indicate descent.”

More than anything, according to the law, your surname identifies your lineage – who and where you came from. A woman, as decided by the Supreme Court (majority of which are male, incidentally), is not prohibited from continuously using her maiden name once she is married because when a woman marries, she does not change her name but only her civil status.

The caveat here is once a married woman makes a choice of surname to use, she cannot make a switch to any of the other choices given at her whim. Jurisprudence recognizes that change in name is subject to specific justifiable grounds, and any change should not prejudice public interest.

While it seems that a name isn’t simply a name, in light of the foregoing,what matters more is how we choose to live up to our own name, and for the married ladies: whether you choose to change your surname or not.

Atty. Hazel L. Helmuth-Vega is a litigation and corporate lawyer. She is a partner at Rosal Diaz Bacalla and Fortuna Law Offices based in Cebu City, with clients all over the Philippines. You may drop her a note at attyh@helmuthlaw.com.

Illustrations by Boy Luna and Deo Cuerdo.

Hazel Helmuth-Vega

Atty. Hazel L. Helmuth-Vega is a litigation and corporate lawyer. She is a partner at Rosal Diaz Bacalla and Fortuna Law Offices based in Cebu City, with clients all over the Philippines. Please drop her a note at attyh@helmuthlaw.com.

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