Before writing this blogpost, I googled for the word CoTObato and found 74 pages of websites (or 7,400 websites) where CoTAbato is misspelled.
It's a shame, I tell you:
To my surprise, even national/regional/provincial/local government offices misspell CoTAbato!
One blog commenter even claims to have lived in CoTAbato for 17 years and yet cannot spell it right to show for those years of living in that part of our country. If a local resident cannot even spell it right, can we expect other non-residents to do so correctly?
Even a website called Mindanao.com has misspelled it eight times!
During the campaign and vote canvassing for the last election, national papers covering Manny Pacquiao's candidacy misspelled it!
Even Wikipedia is not exempted from this misspelling!
Since I learned to read in the 1950s, I became aware of misspelling CoTAbato as CoTObato. It irked me then and still irks me now. With the great strides in technology, the built-in spell checkers and auto-correct features in browsers and word encoding programs, the misspellings are still as rampant as weeds.
The name "Cotabato" is derived from either the Maguindanao kuta wato or Malay kota batu, meaning "stone fort", which makes it a very good memory aide. CoTAbato as in KUTAng bato "stone fort." NOT CoTObato as in KUTOng bato "rock lice" (see picture below right).
Repeat after me, Co-TA-ba-to as in KUTAng bato!
Theories for the persistence of misspelling/mispronunciation:
1. Low awareness is out of the question. With the mainstream media spouting good and bad news about CoTAbato, there is definitely medium to high awareness about this region. A folk song, Ang Bayan Kong Sinilangan originally sung by Asin and still popular up to now, contained five CoTAbatos in its lyrics. In UP campuses, there's a prominent group called Kutang Bato with members coming from CoTAbato.
2. POOR Editing. With the spell checker underlining the CoTObato in red and auto-correct features that can correct its misspelling every time it appears in a document, it becomes clear that the encoder is just too l-a-z-y to edit it. Even those who are supposed to be in the know are just too lazy to do so, thus perpetuating the misspelling.
3. Discrimination. While Cebu has never been spelled as CebO/SEbo/SEbU, the VisayaS has been plagued by the missing terminal s (the Visaya/Bisaya). With the misspelling of the VisayaS and CoTAbato, is this because people in Imperial Manila discriminate against promdis (those from the provinces)?
4. As to its mispronunciation, is it easier on the tongue to say CoTObato than CoTAbato? Unlike the case of Butuan which is seldom misspelled but often mispronounced (Locals insist it should be "But-wan" (two syllables) rather than "Bu-tu-an" (three syllables) because of the latter's Visayan sexual connotation, is it easier to say CO-TO because of the rhyme than the rhymeless CO-TA?