Demonym Explained

A demonym, also referred to as a gentilic, is a name for a resident of a locality which is derived from the name of the particular locality.[1] The word demonym comes from the Greek word for 'populace' (demos) with the suffix for 'name' (-onym). In English, the demonym is often the same as the name of the people's native language: the people of Japan are called Japanese, which is also the name of their language. National Geographic attributes the term to Merriam-Webster editor Paul Dickson.[2] It was subsequently popularized in this sense in 1997 by Dickson in his book Labels for Locals.[3]

Dickson himself attributed the term to George H. Scheetz in What Do You Call a Person From...? A Dictionary of Resident Names (the first edition of Labels for Locals).[4] The term first appeared in Names' Names: A Descriptive and Prescriptive Onymicon by George H. Scheetz.[1]

The term is foreshadowed in demonymic, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as the name of an Athenian citizen according to the deme to which he belonged, with first usage traced to 1893.[5]

The term demonym is not widely employed or known outside geographical circles and does not yet appear in mainstream dictionaries. It is used by some geographers, both online and within their studies and teaching.[6]

Some places, particularly smaller cities and towns, may not have an established word for their residents; toponymists have a particular challenge in researching these. See also ethnonym.

Demonyms as roots

While many demonyms are derived from placenames, many countries are named for their inhabitants: Germany for the Germans, Thailand for the Thais, Denmark for the Danes.

France is named for the Franks, a German tribe who conquered the former Roman province of Gaul.

Adjectives as placenames

Some placenames originated as adjectives. In such cases the placename and the demonym often are the same word, sometimes specialized in form.

This dual function is very common in French, where for example Lyonnais means either the region or an inhabitant of Lyon.

Suffix demonyms

The English language uses several models to create demonyms. The most common is to add a suffix to the end of the location's name, slightly modified in some instances. These may be modelled after Late Latin, Semitic or Germanic suffixes, such as:

Irregular forms

There are many irregular demonyms for recently formed entities, such as those in the New World. There are other demonyms which are borrowed from the native or another language.

In some cases, both the location's name and the demonym are produced by suffixation, for example England and English and English(wo)man (derived from the Angle tribe). In some cases the derivation is concealed enough that it is no longer morphemic: FranceFrench (or Frenchman/Frenchwoman) or FlandersFlemish or WalesWelsh.

In some of the latter cases the noun is formed by adding -man or -woman (English/Englishman/Englishwoman; Irish/Irishman/Irishwoman; Chinese/Chinese man/Chinese woman, versus the archaic or derogatory terms Chinaman/Chinawoman).

From Latin or Latinization
From native or other languages
Irregular singular forms
New World formsIn the case of most Canadian provinces and territories and U.S. states, it is unusual to use demonyms as attributive adjectives (for example "Manitoba maple", not "Manitoban maple"); thus they are generally used only predicatively ("Ben Franklin was Pennsylvanian") or substantively ("Eight Virginians have become Presidents of the United States.") There are some exceptions–the attributive adjective for Alaska is widely held to be Alaskan and in addition, to a less than universal degree, exceptions exist especially with respect to Alberta (Albertan) and Hawaii (Hawaiian).

According to Webster's New International Dictionary, 1993, a person who is a native or resident of Connecticut is a "Connecticuter," although many prefer the more graceful "Connecticutian" or the slightly shorter "Connecticite."

Double forms

Some regions and populaces also have double forms, as the concepts of nation and state are diverging once more. Hence, one whose genetic ancestors were from Britain is a Briton, whereas one with a passport from the country is considered British. The Franks settled France, but the citizens are French. This may be the case for states which were formed or dissolved relatively recently. As in the examples below, another reason for double forms of demonyms may be in relation to historical, cultural or religious issues.

Due to the flexibility of the international system, the opposite is often also true, where one word might apply to multiple groups. The U.S. Department of State states that 98 percent of the Austrian population is ethnically German,[9] while the CIA World Factbook contradicts this assertion by saying Austrians are a separate group (see Various terms used for Germans).[10] A child born in the United States to a Turkish family would be considered a U.S. National, not a U.S. Citizen in spite of that, both by law, and by much of the general populace; however, if the child had been born in Germany, the law, and many of the people, would consider him a Turk. Some countries go so far as to explicitly recognize a difference between citizenship and nationality, e.g., Russia, Swiss Confederation, United States of America.

In fiction

Literature and science have created a wealth of demonyms that are not directly associated with a cultural group, such as Martian for hypothetical people of Mars (credited to scientist Percival Lowell), Jovian for those of Jupiter or its moons, Earthling (from the diminutive -ling, ultimately from Old English -ing meaning 'descendant') as a possible name for the people of Earth (as also "Terran" and "Terrene" and "terrestrial"), and Lilliputians from the island of Lilliput in the satire Gulliver's Travels. Some of these, like Venusians for a putative resident of Venus, are technically incorrect; to conform with the Latin etymon, they should be Venerians.

Cultural problems

Some peoples, especially cultures that were overwhelmed by European colonists, have no commonly accepted demonym, or have a demonym that is the same as the name of their (current or historical) nation. Examples include Iroquois, Aztec, Māori, and Czech. Such peoples' native languages often have differentiated forms that simply did not survive the transfer to English. In Czech, for example, the language is Čeština, the nation is Česko or Česká republika, and the people are Češi. The Dominican Republic has only a demonym-based description for a name.

Both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China officially adhere to the One-China policy, use "Chinese" to describe their nationals, and refuse to have diplomatic relations with states that recognize the other. Chinese identity is itself challenged within the ROC by Taiwanese nationalists.[11]

Both North Korea and South Korea officially refer to their nationals simply as Koreans since they recognize a single nationhood even if they don't recognize each other. They have diplomatic relations with states that recognize their rival.

The demonym for citizens of the United States of America suffers a similar problem albeit non-politically, because "American" may ambiguously refer to both the nation, the USA, and the conjoined continent pair, North and South America. United Statian is awkward in English, but it exists in Spanish (estadounidense), French (étatsunien(ne)), Portuguese (estado-unidense or estadunidense), Italian (statunitense), and also in Interlingua (statounitese). US American (for the noun) and US-American (when used as a compound modifier preceding a noun) is another option, and is a common demonym in German (US-Amerikaner), though almost unheard of in English. Latin Americans (who are the most affected by this use of American) also have yanqui (Yankee) and the euphemism norteamericano/norte-americano (North American, which includes the USA, Mexico, Canada, and several other countries in English, but is frequently used in Spanish to refer to the United States only). Frank Lloyd Wright proposed Usonian (which was taken over into Esperanto: country Usono, demonym Usonano, adjective usona). In the spirit of Sydneysider, Statesider is also a possibility. See main article: Names for Americans.

The 2007 Miss Teen USA contestant Caitlin Upton, who gained international notoriety for her nonsensical response to a question posed during the pageant, referred to the people of the United States as "U.S. Americans."

Sharing a demonym does not necessarily bring conflict. During the 1996 Olympics, the residents of Atlanta, Georgia gave a rousing applause to the Republic of Georgia during the opening ceremony. Many cities that share the same name have sister city relations. The demonyms for the Caribbean nations Dominican Republic and Dominica, though pronounced differently, are spelled the same way, Dominican. The former country's demonym is the ordinary English adjective "Dominican", stressed on the second syllable. The demonym for Dominica, like the name of the country, is stressed on the third syllable: . Another example is the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their nationals are both known as Congolese.

A few residents of the island of Lesbos tried to ban homosexual women from being called lesbians but it was rejected by a court in Athens.[12]

Occasionally, people verbally group a few countries together, and assign one demonym to that group of countries, for example, calling a person from Pakistan an "Indian", possibly because the true origin is unknown or assumed. This is sometimes seen as politically incorrect, and more inclusive terminology has occasionally turned up in common use, such as, in this case, "South Asian".

See also

External Links

Notes and References

  1. Names' Names: A Descriptive and Prescriptive Onymicon by George H. Scheetz (Sioux City: Schütz Verlag, 1988). No ISBN
  2. See Web site: The National Geographic Magazine v177 1990, p170.
  3. News: New York Times. On Language; Gifts of Gab for 1998. 1997-12-14. William Safire.
  4. What Do You Call a Person From...? A Dictionary of Resident Names by Paul Dickson (Facts on File, February 1990). ISBN 978-0816019830
  5. Web site: Aristotle's Constitution of Athens, edited by J.E. Sandy, at the Internet Archive., p. 116
  6. See Web site: Demonyms.
  7. Web site: Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press.
  8. West Australian is supported by the existence of a major newspaper of the same name.
  9. Web site: U.S. Department of State. 2007-08-28. 2007-08-28. U.S. Department of State. U.S. Department of State.
  10. Web site: [ CIA World Factbook]. 2007-08-28. 2007-08-28. CIA World Factbook. CIA World Factbook.
  11. The Construction of Taiwanese Identity and Cross-Strait Relations
  12. Court rules lesbians are not just from Lesbos