Column: The devil is in the demonyms


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

Beelzebub. Mammon. Legion. These are demon names. Today, we’re talking about demonyms, which are different from demon names. The devil is in the details, I suppose.

Demonyms are the words we use for groups of people from different places. We get the word “demonym” from the Greek words “demos” (people, citizens, tribespeople) and “nym” (name). Think about the words “democracy” and “demographic.” These words both have to do with people in a certain region or group. For example, we call people from Greece (referred to as “the birthplace of democracy”) “Greeks.” That’s a demonym.

Let’s start global. By global, I mean planetary. People from Earth are called Earthlings. If sentient life existed on Mars, those beings would be called Martians. I suppose an alien from Neptune would be referred to as a Neptunian.

On a country-by-country basis, some nationalities have predictable demonyms while others are quite surprising. People from Ireland are called “Irish.” Citizens of Ghana are “Ghanaians.” This all makes perfect sense. On the funky side of nation demonyms, folks in New Zealand are called “Kiwis” (referring to the wingless bird). People in Ivory Coast (or Côte d’Ivoire) are referred to as “Ivorians.” Locals of the Principality of Monaco call themselves “Monegasques.”

When it comes to our 50 nifty United States, we also see a combination of expected and odd demonyms. I’m from Oklahoma, so I consider myself an “Okie.” I live in Indiana, so now I’m a naturalized “Hoosier.” While these are probably the most unique state demonyms, I really like the “-er” state demonyms, including “Connecticuter,” “Marylander” and “Mainer,” although some Mainers prefer to be called “Maineiacs.”

One of the state demonyms always makes me yawn. Are you ready? “Utahn.” It’s hard not to read or say “Utahn” without yawning shortly afterward.

Around the world, there are some fantastic demonyms for international cities, but I’d like to zoom in on some U.S. city demonyms. Did you know that someone in Albany is considered “Albanian”? Likewise, someone in Albequerque is called a “Burqueño.” Do you want fries with that? A person from Pittsburgh is called a — you guessed it — “Pittsburgher.” Believe it or not, people in Salem, Mass., like to be called “Salemanders.” Of course, this list isn’t complete without noting that folks in Los Angeles go by “Angelinos.” That’s quite the heavenly demonym.