Does a rule exist to determine how a placename is changed when speaking of something native to that place?
April 13, 2005 6:25 PM   Subscribe

How is the term is determined for a native, thing or resident of a place? For example, an American from America or Italian from Italy seems simple enough, but Glaswegian from Glasgow? Shouldn't it be Moswegian and not Muscovite?

I have been wanting to ask this for a long time but was recently pushed to ask when a friend of mine from Galway referred to her neighbours as Galwegian. I've googled everything I could think of, checked Languagehat's site but didn't find anything in the way of standard rules. All I really found were a number of sites commenting on the strangeness of some of these terms ("Utahn", "Filipino").
posted by geckoinpdx to Writing & Language (37 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't know what the rules are, but someone from Liverpool is a scoucer. Best of luck from a proud Qu├ębecois.
posted by furtive at 6:34 PM on April 13, 2005


Crap, I meant Scouser.
posted by furtive at 6:35 PM on April 13, 2005


Even assuming you mean the English-language term, there's no universal rule. There a big list of examples here.
posted by nicwolff at 6:49 PM on April 13, 2005


Someone from Liverpool is actually a Liverpudlian, of all things, which I think is a fantastic word. Scouse works too of course. And in addition to Glaswegians, there are also Galwegians from Galway, so I don't know who was copying who.
posted by dublinemma at 7:01 PM on April 13, 2005


I forgot about Liverpudlian; that was another that set me off way back when this started. Then of course there's Manx.

Galwegian makes at least a little bit of sense to me (see "Norway/Norwegian"), but some of the rest I'm lost on. Why Somali and not Somalian?

English being what it is, I didn't expect a hard-and-fast rule so much as a guideline...just a point of curiosity that's been bothering me for some time now.
posted by geckoinpdx at 7:09 PM on April 13, 2005


People in Halifax, Nova Scotia are Haligonians, how about Halifax, West Yorkshire?

I kind of like the elegant simplicity of Hong Kong People...
posted by Chuckles at 7:20 PM on April 13, 2005


Yeah...most of them make some kind of sense, but Haligonian? I hadn't heard that one before.

Mancunian has also been a longtime favourite.
posted by geckoinpdx at 7:24 PM on April 13, 2005


Oh, I forgot to answer the question. The term is determined by asking the people "What are you called" and then picking the most common answer (second of third most common might be acceptable, but only under rare and exceptional circumstances).
posted by Chuckles at 7:24 PM on April 13, 2005


Looks like you need to read this very interesting book by Paul Dickson, who, incidentally, is the father of a friend of mine.
You can get a copy on amazon for 25 cents!
posted by Dr. Wu at 7:46 PM on April 13, 2005


People from the Island of Lesbos?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:54 PM on April 13, 2005


I found this regarding HL Mencken's "The American Language"

Mencken cites a study by George Stewart of the University of
California, who attempted to tease out the rules, which are:

1. Towns ending in ia, add an -n, Philadelphian

2. ending in on, add -ian, Bostonian

3. ending in i, add -an, Miamian

4. ending in y, change to i, add -an, Albanian

5. ending in o, add -an, Chicagoan

6. ending with a non-silent e, ie, of ee, add -n, Albuquerquean

7. ending in a (but not ia), add -n, Topekan

8. ending in -olis, change to -olitan, Annapolitan

9. ending in a consonant or silent e, add either -ite or -er,
Brooklynite, New Yorker


But notes that there's many exceptions.

(and we in Sydney have never had anything remotely acceptable....'sydneysiders' is the term used - I don't know why, or what would be better)
posted by peacay at 8:59 PM on April 13, 2005


There's no universal rule, especially in English due to our liberal borrowing from other tongues. There are also two classes of these terms, at least -- one being what you call people who aren't you, and what you call yourselves among yourselves. There's some confusion, sometimes (see that Hispanic overcompensation thread). Also, the name for the language and the name for the people isn't always the same, but that's afar from what you asked.

Words like French obviously derive from some corrupted version of what the Franks call themselves then and now. German doesn't correspond to what they call themselves, Deutsch, except tangentially. Oftentimes the name is flat-out different or wrong, as Eskimo for Inuit.

The end-of-word construction rules you're referring to exist, but they're muddy. Keep in mind that many place names, even today, are Latinized, so they get that ubiquitous terminal "ia" or at least "a". That allows you to make the inhabitants "ians" or "ans"; but note that the Latinized name may have only a tenuous relationship to the regional self-name. Norwegian doesn't come from Norwegia, of course, and the self-name there is norske. There's a whole class of people-names in English with the terminal ish, too -- Swedish (svensk), Danish (dansk), and Finnish (suomi -- it's not a Scandinavian language, actually, but related to Hungarian), not to mention Irish (gaeilge), for example. I think that the terminal ish is related somehow to the terminal ic, which is definitely from Latin, and of course you see that a lot.

The Somali example isn't hard and fast -- Somalian is a perfectly cromulent word -- but the back-formation to something closer to the old tribal name is more common these days, and the terminal i is a common Middle-Eastern construction, e.g. Israeli, Iraqi, Farsi. In other language groups -- and there are many that have no relationship to Indo-European roots -- you get all sorts of self-names for people, which often follow nothing resembling the above rules (Zulu), and in modern times we do try to use their name more often than we used to.

Weirder names like Glaswegian and Liverpudlian basically reflect historical inertia of names which predate modern English and its Latin influences. Glasgow's name itself is essentially an Anglicization of a Celtic/Brythonic (Briton) word, which is itself filtered through a Latinized suffix form. When you consider all that, you have to think that it's lucky we can make any sense of it all!

Yeah, I didn't even mention terminal ese or ite yet. Both of those, again, hark back to older Romance language forms. What else? Oh, I know, er, as in Beloiter.

Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that even when there's a rough standard, there are so many peoples that were named -- in English, anyway -- centuries ago, and historical inertia demands that we continue using that name. Just as romance languages demand that you learn the gender of all sorts of inanimate objects like steam engines, and conform your articles and adjectives to boot, English requires that you learn all these specific place and people names, messy a system as it may be.

uncanny: Lesvonians or Lesviots.
posted by dhartung at 9:02 PM on April 13, 2005


Not an answer to your question, but another data point (just to throw everything else off): someone from Indiana is a Hoosier. I've lived here on and off for 20+ years and have never heard any word even remotely derived from Indiana used to describe residents of the state. There's at least a dozen theories as to where Hoosier comes from--some more credible than others, but none with conclusive proof.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:21 PM on April 13, 2005


Bugger.

Thanks, dhartung!
posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:30 PM on April 13, 2005


Someone from Cambridge (England) is a Cantabrigian. Try fitting that one into a rule scheme.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 11:03 PM on April 13, 2005


How about Halifax, West Yorkshire.
You know, I can't think of any names for either people from Halifax or Yorkshire. There's "Tyke", but I suspect that's a word that's (a) fallen out of favour and (b) was only ever used inside Yorkshire itself.
Folk up the road in Hebden Bridge are called "Hebdonites" though. Or "Artifartians"
posted by seanyboy at 12:14 AM on April 14, 2005


And a resident of Newcastle is a Novocastrian
posted by brettski at 1:36 AM on April 14, 2005


The muse moves me:

"The minx from Manx!" he drinks his thanks
She slinks and skanks in pinks and tanks
"That lynx's" he thinks, "a kinky jinx."
He drinks and wanks, the minx from Manx.
posted by mono blanco at 1:54 AM on April 14, 2005


Brettski: "Novocastrian"commonly pronounced "Geordie."
posted by cushie at 2:34 AM on April 14, 2005


Just to throw another one into the mix. I'm from Swansea in Wales and we're known as Jacks.

Apparently named after a heroic dog who kept watch over the sea at Swansea and rescued a number of children.
posted by lloyder at 3:22 AM on April 14, 2005


cushie - not if they're from New South Wales.....

(and I'm a makem!)
posted by brettski at 5:17 AM on April 14, 2005


DevilsAdvocate almost beat me to it, but there is no single word for people from Indianapolis.

8. ending in -olis, change to -olitan, Annapolitan

Yields Indianapolitan, which just isn't used.
posted by sohcahtoa at 5:20 AM on April 14, 2005


People from Birmingham are called Brummies. I don't know whether that's a nickname like Scousers and Geordies, or the real description. It derives from an older name for the city.
posted by salmacis at 5:24 AM on April 14, 2005


Those of us from the Bay State (Massachusetts) are fondly known throughout the rest of New England as Massholes.
posted by briank at 5:57 AM on April 14, 2005


uncanny: Lesvonians or Lesviots.

yeah, but "lesbian" derives from Sappho who was a Lesbian (in both senses). They've altered the ending to avoid modern connotations, but we only have the word lesbian to refer to female homosexuality because of a resident of that island, so really it would be just as proper to change the word for gay women to "lesviot" if we've now decided that's what Sappho was (in terms of where she was from).

This one irks me because I lost a trivial pursuit game once on this question :).
posted by mdn at 6:28 AM on April 14, 2005


Texas > Texan (once upon a time "Texian," but this has fallen out of favor)
Kansas > Sooner

If you're from Illinois, you're either a "Chicagoan" or a "downstater."
posted by adamrice at 7:10 AM on April 14, 2005


No universal rule, as others have said. In the UK the terms often come from the latin/Roman name of the place (e.g. a Mancunian is from Manchester - or Mancunium, as the Romans had it).

Me, I'm a Grimbarian, originally.
posted by Decani at 7:11 AM on April 14, 2005


To help your searches out, look for keywords "demonym" or "gentilic"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demonym
http://www.answers.com/topic/demonym

"A demonym or gentilic is a word that denotes the members of a people or the inhabitants of a place."
posted by redteam at 7:46 AM on April 14, 2005


Since this has turned into a list of exceptions: someone from Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron is a Haweater. But only if they were born there. If you only moved there, you're a Manitoulin Islander.
posted by mendel at 7:56 AM on April 14, 2005


Just as romance languages demand that you learn the gender of all sorts of inanimate objects like steam engines, and conform your articles and adjectives to boot, English requires that you learn all these specific place and people names, messy a system as it may be.

It's not really the same. If you call everything masculine in Spanish, you'll have the fluency of a toddler.

On the other hand, you can avoid almost all the place-name nonsense with reasonable constructions. Instead of writing "The Liverpudlian police have...," you can simply write "Police in Liverpool have..." Instead of writing that someone is a Bostonian or Brooklynite or New Yorker, you can simply write that someone is from Boston, or Brooklyn, or New York. There's no easy way around noun gender, though.

I'd think normal fluency only demands that people know and recognize the names of a few very large cities that are relevant to your life, not "all these" names. A New Yorker or Chicagoan or Atlantan ought to know which city "Angeleno" refers to, but expecting a Mancunian, Liverpudlian, Glaswegian, or Muscovite to know is asking a bit much.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:55 AM on April 14, 2005


This one irks me because I lost a trivial pursuit game once on this question :).

As did I, but I thought the card said the correct answer was Lesbosian.
posted by krunk at 10:38 AM on April 14, 2005


Zed_Lopez, "Cantabrigian" comes from the Latin for Cambridge, which is "Cantabrigia." And "Cambridge" is actually derived from the original name of the town, Grantabrycge, at least according to this Cambridge history site.
posted by occhiblu at 11:19 AM on April 14, 2005


In Arabic, the suffix for this is usually (always?) -i. So I guess for things like Iraqi, Saudi, Yemeni etc. English just borrowed from that. This might be the case for Somali too - though Arabic isn't the official language there, it's conceivable that it could have gotten into English that way.
posted by borkingchikapa at 12:06 PM on April 14, 2005


Just as romance languages demand that you learn the gender of all sorts of inanimate objects like steam engines, and conform your articles and adjectives to boot, English requires that you learn all these specific place and people names, messy a system as it may be.
It's not really the same. If you call everything masculine in Spanish, you'll have the fluency of a toddler.

On the other hand, you can avoid almost all the place-name nonsense with reasonable constructions. Instead of writing "The Liverpudlian police have...," you can simply write "Police in Liverpool have..." Instead of writing that someone is a Bostonian or Brooklynite or New Yorker, you can simply write that someone is from Boston, or Brooklyn, or New York. There's no easy way around noun gender, though.


Also, in english it's perfictly acceptable to simply make them up on the fly.
posted by delmoi at 1:01 PM on April 14, 2005


Sappho who was a Lesbian (in both senses)

We know virtually nothing about the historical Sappho except that she was probably from Lesbos. Modern ideas of her sexuality are, well, modern. The ancients thought of her as man-hungry or just plain immoral when they weren't simply praising her as a great poet (which is, after all, the main thing about her. This novel sounds like it might be a fun read:"Green portrays Sappho as having a hearty appetite for firm bodies of either gender -- an appetite to match her brother who almost drove the family into poverty in his vain efforts to marry an Egyptian prostitute."

As to the original question, as others have said, there's no general rule. But this is not just a problem with English; I have entire books dedicated to the subject of "what do you call someone from X" in Spanish and Russian, and Larousse gives the demonym for every French place name (Montignac: Montignacois; Montpellier: Montpelliérains; Montréal: Montréalais; Mont-Saint-Michel: Montois). The maddening thing about Spanish is that the same name will be given to towns all over the Spanish-speaking world, and every one will have a different demonym: thus a person from Córdoba in Spain is cordobés (or patriciense!), in Argentina cordubense, in Colombia cordobense or cordobeño (there are two such cities).
posted by languagehat at 2:16 PM on April 14, 2005


We know virtually nothing about the historical Sappho except that she was probably from Lesbos. Modern ideas of her sexuality are, well, modern.

Yes, of course. The point is, she was a Lesbian, capital L, as in, from Lesbos, and we derive the modern word about female sexuality from this most famous resident of the island because she wrote erotic poetry about other women (not exclusively, but her canon included such work). The point is simply that the root of the adjective/noun is the demonym (thanks, redteam!).

yes, krunk, Lesbosian was the answer to my memory also.
posted by mdn at 3:24 PM on April 14, 2005


The isle of Lesbos certainly does have connotations relating to female homosexuality. Not only are there Sappho's own erotic poems about females, a male lyric poet, Anakreon, wrote a poem a girl he admired where he says "But she, since she's from well-founded Lesbos, finds fault with me my hair, since it's white, and she gapes after another girl"

The only real question about Sappho is whether it's appropriate to apply modern standards of sexuality -- i.e. the idea of being "a homosexual"
posted by dagnyscott at 8:50 PM on April 14, 2005


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