Friday, August 12, 2016


A story in the Marianas Variety tells us that police arrested a certain Tai Ting Fong for assault and robbery.

Since there is no Western first name preceding Tai Ting Fong, it's easy to wonder if the person arrested was Chinese, since the Chinese normally have three names. First would come the family name (Tai), then the personal name (Ting) and the generational name (Fong).

You know, like Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

Someone also commented that he had heard that Taitingfong was actually a Chinese name that had been "Chamorrolized." I prefer the word "Chamorrocized."

So, is the name Taitingfong Chinese or indigenous Chamorro?


1. We have lists of Chinese immigrants to the Marianas during the late Spanish period. These lists were taken in the 1870s and after and name all the Chinese who came to the Marianas since the 1850s. They all settled on Guam. Every family on Guam with Chinese origins (Limtiaco, Unpingco, etc) is in these lists, except for the ones that came afterward during the American period (e.g. Won Pat). Yet, there is not a single Taitingfong in these "Chinese lists."

If you say that the first Taitingfong on Guam was a Chinese who came long before the 1850s, that would be pure speculation without documented evidence. You would have to explain how a single Chinese man came to Guam during a period of time that no other Chinese person came to Guam. The Chinese who did come to Guam in the 1850s came in groups from the Philippines, recruited by the government to help boost farming on Guam. A lone Chinese named Taitingfong coming to Guam before the 1850s would be an anomaly that would need explanation as well as verification.

2. The name Taitingfong does appear in lists of people living on Guam in 1843, more than ten years before the Chinese immigrants listed in the Spanish records. Taitingfong is a name that appears in lists of people from the village of Pago, at present-day Pago Bay. This small village was inhabited by "purer" Chamorros, with indigenous names like Mafnas and Atoigue. In the 1897 Guam census, a Josefa Taitingfong, born around 1842, married a man named Agualo, another indigenous name.

As with many names written in the past when people spelled the way they wanted to, Taitingfong in the Spanish records is sometimes spelled Taitinfon.

As the documents show that there were Taitingfongs living on Guam before the Chinese immigration of the 1850s, and that these Taitingfongs either lived in almost exclusively Chamorro villages like Pago, or married others with indigenous Chamorro names, the evidence suggests that the Taitingfongs were also Chamorros living among other "purer" Chamorros. "Purer" meaning less mixed with foreign blood, as suggested by their indigenous surnames and residence in villages far from Hagåtña, location of the greater ethnic mix of Chamorros and Spaniards, Hispanics and Filipinos.

3. The name itself can be understood within the Chamorro language.

We all know that tai means "without, lacking" in Chamorro. There are a number of indigenous Chamorro names that begin with tai : Taitano, Taimanglo and Taijeron to mention just a few.

The "tingfong" looks suspiciously close to tufong, which means "to count." Just as tucha (to lead prayers) morphed into techa (prayer leader) via titucha, tufong could have morphed into tingfong via titufong. One possible meaning, therefore, could be "without a counter," someone who counts.

4. The similarity between Taitingfong and two verified Chinese names, Tyquiengco and Tydingco, is only an apparent similarity, thanks to our Americanized brains.

Modern Chamorros pronounce it TAI-quiengco and TAI-dingco. But this isn't the original pronunciation.

The TY in those two names was pronounced like TEE, not like TAI. TEE-quiengco and TEE-dyngco In fact, older people and even younger people who know their culture still pronounce it like TEE, not like TAI.

Remember that it was Spaniards who first wrote down those Chinese names in a Spanish way. For a Spaniard, TY will never be pronounced TAI. The Y in Spanish sounds like an I. TI-quiengco, TI-dyngco.

Thus, Taitingfong and Tyquiengco are similar only to Americanized minds that think in English.


Putting all of this together, I think the evidence all points to a Chamorro classification for the surname Taitingfong.

We are only being fooled by coincidental and apparent similarities if we assert the original hypothesis.


  1. Pale',

    What about Tainatongo?


  2. This is a bit long winded, so I had to break it up in 3 parts. Thanks in advance for reading.

    PART I

    Very interesting! May I get a soft copy of the Chinese lists that you referenced? I've been researching the Chinese who settled in Guam during the 1800s for a few years. I pieced together a list of my own using quite a few different documents and would be happy to share.

    My aunt told me stories of how as a child her elders would teasingly call her "tee-DINGCO" even though that was never how it was pronounced at home. That always struck me as curious, so I've been trying to rediscover the original Chinese character/pronunciation. What I've found makes me lean towards believing that "Tydingco/tai-DINGCO" would be the transliteration/pronunciation closest to the Chinese original.

    The Tydingco family founder is my maternal 2x great grandfather. He used Chinese characters to signed his labor contract in 1860, but didn't include his generational name "Te/Ti/Ty." Throughout his lifetime his name was transliterated as Te Dingco (1860), Te-Dingco (1861) and Ty-Tyngco (1880). Without the Chinese character for "Te/Ti/Ty" all we have to rely on is the Spanish transliteration, how others pronounced it and how it was pronounced at home.

    On paper that first syllable should be pronounced as "teh" or "tee," however transliterations aren't completely reliable because Chinese dialects contain sounds that are completely foreign to western ears. Even still, there's no arguing against the popularity of the "tee" pronunciation. For my family branch it has always been "tai," as passed down by my grandfather. Granted he was born in 1907 during the American administration, but he was the grandson of the family founder.

  3. PART II

    Here are two points to support my case for the "TAI" pronunciation being closer to the Chinese original.

    (1) An example of the trappings of transliteration. The Miner family can trace their roots to an American who moved to the island in the 1800s. The 1897 census recorded this family name as Maina, Magna and Mayña. Obviously the name was transliterated to please ears and tongues of Spanish-Chamorro speakers. The name returns back to the original "Miner" after the transition to the US Naval Government as evidenced land records and the 1920 census. I suspect that they always said "Miner" in the home, but out on the ranch or at a fandango they responded to "Maina/Magna/Mayña" as the lingua franca suited. I believe this was the case for the Tydingco family as well.

    (2) In the 1897 census, "Tedingco" was the uniform spelling for all of the Tydingcos as recorded by the Cabeza de Barangay of Asan, Carlos Maañao Tydingco, who was the oldest child of the Tydingco family founder. Great grandfather Carlos' eldest son, Vicente, was a school teacher during the early years of the Naval Government. There's strong evidence that he standardized the family name as "Tydingco."

    Great granduncle Tenti was a teacher at a critical time. He had to fast track his mastery of English to remain an educator. To do so he moon-lit in the Agat Land Records office and wrote educational notices for the both the Guam Newsletter and Guam Recorder. He also was a census enumerator in 1920 and 1930. In the articles that he wrote for the Guam Newsletter in 1914-15 you can see him transition to signing his name as "Ty-Dingco/Tydingco." When 1920 rolled around he wrote "Tydingco" for all family members in the districts that he enumerator (mainly Asan). His spelling was based off of the English alphabet and most certainly would have been pronounced as "Tai-dingco."


    Ultimately "tee-DINGCO/teh-DINGCO" is the proper Chamorro pronunciation, but I believe that either "tai-DINGCO" or "TAI-dingco" was how Tydingco family members pronounced it at home from the get go. I have a feeling that the "TAI" pronunciation would get you further in China. Imagine an early generation Miner returning to the US for a family reunion and asking a cabbie to bring him/her to the Maina/Magna/Mayña household. They'd be just fine doing so on Guam, but wouldn't get very far in the states.

    Circling back to the beginning, I'd be happy to share the documents that I've gathered and would love to see your list of Chinese names. Thank you for sharing your knowledge of Chamorro history. Especially these small but important details that are so easily lost to time.

  5. Saina Ma'åse Pale. My last name is Taitingfong and reading this is amazing. I knew my last name was indegineous but not as in depth until now. I can always count on your blog to read something we only have common knowledge of to be more dissected.

  6. Replies
    1. I think most of us who work on family trees, looking at censuses and other old records from the Spanish era, consider Tajalle to be indigenous Chamorro.

    2. I think most of us who work on family trees, looking at censuses and other old records from the Spanish era, consider Tajalle to be indigenous Chamorro.

  7. I'm doing research on my Chamorro familial ancestry and keep running into roadblocks because of what the Japanese occupation did to try to erase any proof of the indigenous existence. I went searching for the name you mentioned - Josefa Taitingfong Agualo and have been unable to find any record of her. The reason I looked is because both Taitingfong and Taijito/Taijitu are family names I am directly linked to.
    Thus brings the question, did you get the information from island records or a website source?

    1. Josefa Taitingfong is in the 1897 Guam Census