The campaign to normalize women retaining their own names after marriage received a boost early this month with the passing of House Bill 10459. HB 10459 seeks to clearly and categorically state that a married woman can still opt to use her “maiden first name and surname,” adding to what is already provided for in our Civil Code. It was a moment of relief, celebration, and validation for women who value the symbolic and practical effects of such a bill.

Of course, this was, and is, not always the norm. The practice had specific western origins that were tied to mainstream notions of economics and religiosity (here is a comprehensive but highly readable article on the history of this practice). And there are currently various other naming practices in other parts of the world that follow different conventions.

Among the Pantaron Manobo communities I work with, for example, the use of surnames was a relatively recent development that came with State census-taking, and was further regularized by formal schooling. For many of my friends, their current surnames are actually the personal name of an admired or respected ancestor that were picked for this purpose. But similar to our own practice, these ancestors whose names were re-adapted were almost always male.

Prior to this, personal names sufficed for members of Manobo communities. Even until today an individual can acquire and be called several different names throughout their lifetimes, such as funny or affectionate nicknames that catch on with the rest of the group, or additional personal names that reflect a life event or achievement.

To a certain degree they also practice teknonymy, or the custom of referring to adults using the names of their children. Our interlocutors don’t characterize this as a hard and fast rule, but you often hear it used in daily conversations among people of all ages: “Go and fetch so-and-so’s mother,” or “I just spoke with so-and-so’s father,” for example.

In communities that developed this practice (including many in the Austronesian-speaking world), this could be related to showing respect, or socially affirming an adult’s crucial new role as a parent. Anthropological studies have suggested that this also reflects a different orientation in reckoning kinship and how intergenerational relationships are valued. With teknonyms, it is children—or future generations—that are given emphasis, unlike with surnames that are usually more evocative of past ancestry.

Given that surnames are a recent phenomenon and that teknonymy is present in their communities, does that mean that the Manobo have no durable way by which to trace actual kin relations and links with the past? I’ve been thinking of this question for some time and I would argue that there still is—but it cannot be found in the realm of names and naming.

I believe the key may lie in Manobo post-marital residence rules. Post-marital residence rules are social prescriptions about where newly-wed couples are expected to live, and these have implications about kin membership and loyalty, economic arrangements, and interpersonal relations, among other matters. For example, in “industrial” societies like ours, there is an increasing expectation to be neolocal: young couples establish their own independent households. This may be because we value self-sufficiency and pulling oneself by one’s own bootstraps, as well as privacy and being unrestricted by parental authority.

On the other hand, in “non-industrial” societies these rules are often a choice between patrilocality, or staying with the groom’s family, or matrilocality, staying with the bride’s family. In Manobo communities their rule is matrilocality, and as far as our surveys can tell, this rule is still largely followed (though like teknonymy, it isn’t described as a hard and fast one). This has the effect that many (if not all) of a couple’s children are born in the village of their mother and raised by her family. When these children grow up, the girls continue to stay in their village even after marriage, while their brothers marry out and live in the villages of their brides. Men don’t cut ties with their birth villages and remain close and caring towards members of their natal family, but their own children would be socialized in their early years in the mother’s family and not the father’s. For women, on the other hand, matrilocality keeps their generations together: mothers and their daughters, and their daughters’ daughters could expect to remain with each other to provide support and companionship.

Manobo adults are very fond of traveling and moving around their landscape, whether to trade, to visit, or simply because of wanderlust, and so remembering their birth villages is important because this gives them a sense of rootedness in the vast Pantaron mountains. They may not state this as a formulaic rule, but it is deeply apparent in how passionately they speak about their natal settlements with their mother’s families. What’s notable here is that these linkages of birth villages can be traced through women, specifically the wives, mothers, and daughters who raise children together. If in our society the surname we inherit from our fathers are the socially-recognized stable labels of family and identity, for the Manobo it is women and their villages who provide analogous stable place-based way-points of personal histories and kin relations across their ancestral domain.

With HB 10459, it’s about time we catch up with our Manobo siblings in recognizing the significance of lineages traced through women. If this bill becomes law, this will also be a noteworthy step in integrating our indigenous values in our present institutions and current times.

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