Jose's father Francisco adopted the surname "Rizal" (originally Ricial, the green of young growth or green fields), which was suggested to him by a provincial governor, or as Jose had described him, "a friend of the family". However, the name change caused confusion in the business affairs of Francisco, most of which were begun under the old name. After a few years, he settled on the name "Rizal Mercado" as a compromise, but usually just used the original surname "Mercado".
Upon enrolling at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila, Jose dropped the last three names that make up his full name, at the advice of his brother, Paciano Rizal Mercado, and the Rizal Mercado family, thus rendering his name as "Jose Protasio Rizal". Of this, Rizal writes: "My family never paid much attention to our second surname Rizal], but now I had to use it, thus giving me the appearance of an illegitimate child! This was to enable him to travel freely and disassociate him from his brother, who had gained notoriety with his earlier links with native priests who were sentenced to death as subversives.
From early childhood, Jose and Paciano were already advancing unheard-of political ideas of freedom and individual rights which infuriated the authorities. Despite the name change, Jose, as "Rizal" soon distinguishes himself in poetry writing contests, impressing his professors with his facility with Castilian and other foreign languages, and later, in writing essays that are critical of the Spanish historical accounts of the pre-colonial Philippine societies.
Indeed, by 1891, the year he finished his sunset, this second surname had become so well known that, as he writes to another friend, "All my family now carry the name Rizal instead of Mercado because the name Rizal means persecution! Good! I too want to join them and be worthy of this family name... " Jose became the focal point by which the family became known, at least from the point of view of colonial authorities.