Demonyms

In the letters section of the May 20th New Yorker, this piece:

NEW YORKIANS

In “Draft No. 4,” [April 29th], John McPhee writes that a copy editor sometimes provides a writer with a word like “a rare gold coin.” He recalls how Mary Norris, copy editing one of his pieces, suggested “Mancunians” for “Manchestrians.” McPhee goes on to rank it on a selective list of names for residents of specific locales. Readers wrote in with their own demonyms:

Here’s another demonym, used by Sir Steven Runciman in “A History of the Crusades”: an inhabitant of Trebizond is a Trapezuntine. Greg Vanderheiden, Hong Kong

I worked at a daily newspaper in Aspen, Colorado, where we called residents Aspenites. Citizens of nearby Basalt were Basaltines. Best of all were the people of Crested Butte, south of the Elk Mountains. They were, and are, Crested Beauticians. Hal Clifford, Boulder, Colo.

How could McPhee leave out Cantabrigian and Oxonian? The first I find much more euphonious and ingenious than the second, though I may be prejudiced. Margaret Way, M.A. Cantab., Epping, N.H.

What McPhee wrote:

The planet, of course, is covered with demonyms, and after scouring the word in conversations on this topic with Mary Norris I began a severely selective A-list, extending Mancunian and Vallisoletano [a citizen of Valladolid] through thity-five others at this writing, including Wulfrunian (Wolverhampton), Novocastrian (Newcastle), Trifluvian (Trois-Rivières), Leodensian (Leeds), Hartlepudlian (Hartlepool), Liverpudlian (you knew it), Haligonian (Halifax), Varsovian (Warsaw), Providentian (Providence), and Tridentine (Trent).

McPhee shows a decided preference for demonyms based on Latin (which are, in general, phonologically distant from the English place-names, so more “interesting”), and he gives only 10 of the 35 demonyms on his “severely selective A-list”, which for all we know included Cantabrigian and Oxonian — and maybe Exonian (Exeter), Neapolitan (Naples), and Venetian (Venice). (Margaret Way could simply have offered her favorite demonyms, without exclaiming in astonishment over what she sees as deficiencies in the list McPhee gave in the New Yorker — which was clearly labeled as a sampling of a larger list that was itself “severely selective”.)

As McPhee says, the planet is covered with demonyms. The Wikipedia article on them has an enormous list, which is nevertheless missing the wonderful Trapezuntine and, of course, very local (and often playful) demonyms, like the ones from Hal Clifford.

5 Responses to “Demonyms”

  1. Damien Hall Says:

    This doesn’t mean that McPhee thinks that Mary Norris was actually the first to suggest ‘Mancunian’, does it? The wording is a little ambiguous, and I may be being primed by the mention of ‘a rare gold coin’ to think that it is being suggested that _Mancunian_ was her idea. Needless to say, it wasn’t the idea of anyone still alive: the _OED_ has it back to 1904. ‘Manchesterian’ [sic] is older, going back to the late eighteenth century, though it is now marked ‘rare’.

    Or was Norris’ suggestion that ‘Mancunian’ should be used in relation to one of the Manchesters in the USA? Is that done? If not, I suppose it would be a new thing to suggest. I do note that the _OED_ lists an American English pronunciation for ‘Mancunian’ as well as a British English one, but maybe it does that for all words where the phonological variation would be predictable, regardless of their actual usage in either continent.

    • Robert Coren Says:

      I think he meant that she was the first to suggest it *to him*. Although I’ve never heard “Mancunian” applied to residents of an American Manchester, residents of Cambridge, MA (of which I am one) are most certainly referred to as “Cantabridgians”.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      What Robert Coren said. You can find some occurrences of Mancunian referring to residents of Manchester NH, but it’s not clear whether they are jocular or seriously meant.

  2. zimpenfish Says:

    Also “Scouser” for Liverpool and surrounding areas.

  3. Jordan Bishop (@jrdnbshp) Says:

    I’m not sure what I’m more surprised about – the fact that I went looking for a more complete list of McPhee’s demonyms with a realistic expectation to find them, or that you actually held the answer.

    Either way, thanks.

    Jordan of http://jrdnbshp.com

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