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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

entry arrow11:27 AM | Kinsmen Online

Months ago, in a writers’ conference in Baguio, while we were waiting for a van to take us to the house of National Artist BenCab, a bunch of friends and I stumbled on an online phenomenon that took ego-tripping to a new level: it was called Google Fight, and it inserted Internet technology to our most casual sense of narcissism.

Google Fight is relatively old (almost as old as Google itself), but my Baguio friends found it quite novel. It takes something as simple as search, and turns it on its head, making Googling a game of "My father is stronger than your father"-proportions. The idea, of course, borrows the very wonders of Google, the world’s foremost Internet search engine whose secret algorithms allow it to scour the billions of webpages available out there, just to ferret out information most worthy of one’s search words. In less than a decimal of a second.

Of course, in the usually private act of our Internet surfing, the idea that comes must be common to all who have half the wit of being curious: “If I Google myself, what will I find online?”

Google Fight takes that fascination further by giving any Internet user two search fields: you simply type in two specific keywords, each to its own search field, then you press Enter—and Google Fight determines which keyword brings back the most returns. If you type in “Obama” vs. “McCain,” for example, Obama wins hands-down with 244,000,000 returns compared to McCain’s 157,000,000. This means that there are more Internet references and links to the keyword “Obama” than to “McCain.”

In Baguio, this led to a merry Google Fight between all our names—which begged the Existential question just right for the Information Age: if you Google yourself, and you don’t find anything, do you really exist?

Googling oneself, of course, is such a narcissistic thing to do. It is also something that spares no one, and everybody I know is guilty of it. One friend Googles himself constantly, just to settle his inflated sense of paranoia that people may be spreading bad gossip about him online. (The infamous Brian Gorrell blog has made that a plausibility, of course.) I, too, Google myself sometimes—for a variety of reasons, one of them being a tiny sense of affirmation—God help me—that I actually exist. And I do get unique results of my online self-searches, if only because I have such a weird family name. I’m not a Piñero, a Reyes, a Villanueva, a Perez, or any of that sort. These are surnames of thousands. I’m a Casocot—that stands out clearly from a crowd of surnames.

I used to be ashamed of my surname. Casocot. The whole thing sounds utterly made up. I also used to be convinced that it sounded silly, somewhere in the neighborhood of Makabalig-otin, or any of those memorable Siquijodnon surnames.

My father used to tell us that the Casocots a generation before him had coined this strange family name out of thin air because the Murillos—our supposed old (and real) family name—were being hunted down by the Japanese kempetai during World War II. As to what specific offense or guerilla honor it was, I have no idea. But father was often fond of tall tales, and while I used to be inclined to believe him, I really have no way to verify anything anymore. He died when I was 21, and with him died a chance for knowing the real score. So now my brothers and I are stuck with merely wishing for the generic-sounding “Murillo,” because, truth be told, that surname does make things easier. At least bureaucratically-speaking. My brother Rey, who is based in Los Angeles, got tired of being asked to spell out and explain “Casocot” every time he had to process papers that he had since legally changed his surname to that of my mother’s maiden name, which is Rosales. (Now there’s a very generic surname.) He had also given himself a new second name, Gio. So the Rey Rosales Casocot of old is now Rey Gio Rosales. Everybody mistakes him for a Latino now, and he doesn’t care.

Casocot. It sounds dirty sometimes, and when foreigners do try to pronounce it, they say “Casket” instead. Like “death” itself. Even the great poet Eileen Tabios once called me Ian Rosales Scott. Because, well, there’s just no spelling it correctly, especially the first time around.

Kasukut. Casukot. Kasokot. I can go on, and on.

And so, I tried Googling the whole damn surname, to see if I could get anything beyond returns with my name in them. (This is easy to do. I simply wrote in “Casocot –Ian –Fermin –Rosales,” which effectively cancelled any returns with “Ian Fermin Rosales” in them.)

I did get some results.

One historical website lists down what remained of old Filipino surnames before the Claveria Edict of 1849, which called for the Hispanization of family names in Spanish colonial Philippines. One entry points out to an old Tagalog surname, “Casuco,” which meant “fellow surrenderee.” (My ancestors surrendered? To what? And is “Casuco” the real forerunner of “Casocot”?)

But now, also a deepening mystery. There is now the matter of “kinsmen” found online, all of us sharing a weird name, most of them quite thick in Nasipit or Butuan City, Agusan del Norte. Who in heavens is Alona Brenda Casocot? Danilo Casocot Brucal? Vhim Pate Casocot? Felix Casocot? Rodel Castor Casocot? Jesebelle Casocot? Maria Ruena Casocot? Sirelo Casocot? Lauro Casocot? Florencio T. Casocot? Nestor Malalis Casocot? Are they relations?

Why does a certain Lalaine Casocot proclaim in her Friendster profile, “nvr let guys hurt u..we women r d planetz pride..so wen guy hurtz u..,stand tall and say!!Im too beautiful to be yours..!!”? And why does a certain Christine Casocot, also in Friendster, describe herself thus as “gwafa q wui, way palag kay wla tambal sa insicurities hehehehehehe..”? Do Casocots normally murder language this way?

Worst of all, who is Flordeles Casocot?

And why does she have an online dating profile for a site usually reserved for mail-order brides desperately looking for white, dirty, old men? And why does she look like an overly Block & Whitened tsimay? And does the same blood course through my veins? Oh. My. God.

Fun, fun, fun.

Try it. Google yourself. Sometimes you can never guess the surprises you will find online.

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