Recently I flew to the Hoosier state to visit with my family. Some of you know what I’m talking about, but if you don’t that’s okay, not everyone knows that people from the state of Indiana are called Hoosiers. This Hoosier thing started me thinking about what people from other places call themselves. I mean really, what do you call someone from Massachusetts or Connecticut or for that matter someone from Newark or Union City? I read a bit about the topic in Paul Dickson’s book Labels for Locals and was caught up in the fascinating study of naming.
Onomastician (someone who studies the origin, history, tradition and usage of proper names) and historian George R. Stewart Jr. wrote down some general rules for naming people from various places. Stewart, a University of California Berkeley professor was also one of the founders of the American Name Society (who knew?) and according to Dickson; Stewart’s rules run something like this:
if the name of the place ends in –a or –ia, an –n should be added
if it ends in –on, add –ian
if it ends in –i, add –an
if it ends in –o, add –an;
and if it ends in –y, change the –y to an –i and add –an
if, however, the place ends in a sounded –e, -an is added
if it ends in –olis, it becomes –olitan;
and if it ends with a consonant or a silent –e, either –ite or –er is added.
These rules work relatively well, so someone from New York is a New Yorker and if you’re from Cuba, you’re a Cuban. But tradition, culture and history still take precedence in many instances and what really wins out is what the majority of the people want to call themselves. That’s why people from San Francisco are San Franciscans not San Fransicoans and someone from Schenectady, New York is a Dorpian (seriously), people from Indiana are Hoosiers and people from earth are called earthlings. BTW, if you’re wondering, most people from Massachusetts go by the name Bay Staters and many people from Connecticut choose to call themselves Nutmeggers.
If you find this topic interesting check out some of books at the library on the subject of toponyms (the study of place names) and while you’re at it feel free to tell us where you’re from and what people from your city, state, country or planet have decided to name themselves.