What’s in a Name? Demonyms and Other Place Names

2 min read

When someone asks, “Where are you from?” the answer could be “New York,” or it could be “I’m a New Yorker.” The latter uses a “demonym,” or a name for people who are from a particular place. “Demonym” comes from the Greek for “people” and “name.” Often the demonym is similar to the place — Londoners live in London, and Spaniards are from Spain. However, there are some unique and less obvious demonyms that residents claim with pride.

Hoosiers

“Hoosier” is an often-used name for a person from Indiana. There are a few theories for the origin of this demonym — possibly, surveyors who were mapping the territory would call out, “Who’s here?” when they spotted a cabin on the frontier. Eventually, “Who’s here” elided into “hooshere” and then “hoosier.” Another theory is that the name came from immigrants from the Cumberland region of England who settled in the southern hills of the state. “Hoozer” in the Cumbrian (another demonym) dialect means a high hill. One of the first published instances of “Hoosier” — from a mid 19th-century poem written by an Indiana mayor — supports this theory.

Mancunians

The people of Manchester are called “Mancuians” and not “Manchesterians” because of the original Latin name for the city — “Mancunium.” Famous Mancunians include Liam and Noel Gallagher (the brothers who make up the rock band Oasis); actors Ian McKellan, Danny Boyle, and Bernard Hill; and the founder of the British Suffragette movement, Emmeline Pankhurst.

Galwegians, Glaswegians, and Scousers

Sometimes demonyms take on a regional influence. A person from Norway is called a “Norwegian,” so it’s likely that people from Galway, Ireland, were inspired to call themselves “Galwegians.” Then the folks in Glasgow, Scotland, followed suit and became “Glaswegians.”

It’s a more circuitous path from Norway, but “lobscouse” is a stew that was brought to England by Norwegian sailors, and it was so popular in Liverpool that those residents are called “Scousers.” “Liverpudlian” is another acceptable demonym, but it is more often related to the football team than just the town.

Haligonian

“Haligonian” is the demonym for the people of Halifax in both the United Kingdom and Canada. The change from an “f” to a “g” is due to a case of false etymology. Around the 1600s, some scholars claimed that “Halifax” came from the Latin term halig faex, meaning “holy hair.” It was rumored that John the Baptist’s head was buried there, so the etymology stuck. But, the British city has been around since the 1100s, so it’s more likely that the etymology come from an Old English term, halh-gefeaxe, which roughly translates to “a secluded spot with rough grass.”

Featured photo credit: honglouwawa/ iStock

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