A demonym or gentilic is a word that denotes the members of a people or the inhabitants of a place. In English, a demonym is often the same as the name of the people's native language: e.g., the "French" (people from France). The word comes from the Greek word for 'populace' (δῆμος demos) plus the suffix -onym. The National Geographic Magazine attributes the coinage to Merriam-Webster editor [Paul Dickson]. It was subsequently popularized in this sense in 1997 by Dickson in his book Labels for Locals. The term is foreshadowed in geo-demonym, meaning a geographical denomination pseudonym such as A Hartfordshire Incumbent. The term is not widely employed or known outside geographical circles and does not appear in mainstream dictionaries. It is used by some geographers, both online and within their studies and teaching.

The dictionary aggregation site only finds the word in Wikipedia, Wiktionary, and The Word Spy, and not in any print dictionaries. The alternative gentilic is even less frequently used, and only two references can be found through, both citing Wikipedia as the source, one of the citations being this article.Gentilic appears in A Dictionary of the Bible from 1900; the examples given (the Moabite, the Jebusite) suggest that the meaning here, as with geo-demonym, is a term which refers to a particular individual rather than the name of a group.

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.

  • Argentina: properly República Argentina (Argentine Republic) or Tierra Argentina (Land of Silver), from Latin argentum (silver). In English, the Spanish form Argentina is used for the country, the parallel English form Argentine as demonym and general adjective. The adjectival forms of Argentinean or Argentinian are used in the United Kingdom; however, the Oxford English Dictionary lists Argentine as the correct demonym.
  • Philippines: properly Philippine Islands (Spanish: Islas Filipinas), named for King Philip II of Spain. Here, in contrast, the English form is used to mean of or relating to the Philippines, whereas the Spanish masculine adjective Filipino is used for the same meanings and for the national language and as the demonym, in other words as the general adjective. The English plural is Filipinos and the Spanish feminine Filipina is also used in English for women.

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

In 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."

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.

  • Greek gods but Ode on a Grecian UrnGreek may apply to anything connected with Greece, but Grecian is restricted to ancient culture (and Grecian Formula).
  • Norse gods but NorwegianNorwegian being the ordinary adjective for Norway, but Norse being generally used to describe ancient Scandinavian culture.
  • Israelite but IsraeliIsraelite pertaining to the ancient tribes and kingdom of Israel; Israeli pertaining to the modern nation of the same name.

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, while the CIA World Factbook contradicts this assertion by saying Austrians are a separate group (see Various terms used for Germans). A child born in the United States to a Turkish family would be considered American, 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.

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.

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). 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: Use of the word American.

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: ˌdɒmɪˈniːkən. 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 .

See also


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