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A demonym, also referred to as a gentilic, is a name for a resident of a locality which is derived from the name of the particular locality. The word demonym comes from the Greek word for "populace" ( demos) with the suffix for "name" (-onym). In English, the demonym is often the same as the name of the people's native language: the people of Koreamarker are called Korean, which is also the name of their language. National Geographic Magazine attributes this term to Merriam-Webster editor Paul Dickson. It was subsequently popularized in this sense in 1997 by Dickson in his book Labels for Locals.

Dickson himself attributed the term to George H. Scheetz in What Do You Call a Person From...? A Dictionary of Resident Names (the first edition of Labels for Locals). The term first appeared in Names' Names: A Descriptive and Prescriptive Onymicon by George H. Scheetz.

The term is foreshadowed in demonymic, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as the name of an Athenian citizen according to the deme to which he belonged, with first usage traced to 1893.

The term demonym is not widely employed or known outside geographical circles and does not yet appear in mainstream dictionaries. It is used by some geographers, both online and within their studies and teaching.

Some places, particularly smaller cities and towns, may not have an established word for their residents; toponymist have a particular challenge in researching these. In some countries like Belgiummarker and Luxembourgmarker, there is strong tradition of "demonym-like nickname[s]", called in French blason populaire. In some cases, this "blason populaire" is frequently used as the name of the inhabitants.

Demonyms as roots

While many demonyms are derived from placenames, many countries are named for their inhabitants: Germanymarker for the Germans, Thailandmarker for the Thais, Denmarkmarker for the Danes, Francemarker for the Franks. Additional examples are: Abkhaziamarker for the Abkhaz, Slovakiamarker for the Slovaks, and Sloveniamarker for the Slovenes. This is understandable since tribes and peoples generally have a longer continuous history than the countries: tribal names often imply a descent from a single ancestor such as Rus the legendary ancestor of the Russians. In Bantu languages the name of the land and the name of the inhabitants will have a common root distinguished by different prefixes (e.g. Buganda, land, and Baganda, inhabitants).

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.
  • Argentinamarker: 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 Kingdommarker; however, the Oxford English Dictionary lists Argentine as the correct demonym. (Argentinian is a demonym for the Argentine, an archaic name for Argentina, and hence a less direct derivation.)
  • Brazilmarker: from pau brasil (pau: wood; brasil: ember-red color), the name of a native Brazilian tree highly regarded by the Portuguese explorers. The adjective brasil (brazil in the old Portuguese spelling) came to be the official name for the whole country and lost its adjectival nature.
  • Philippinesmarker: properly Philippine Islandsmarker (Spanish: Islas Filipinas), named after 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, as well as Pinoy and Pinay, which are also used in English for men and women, respectively.


This dual function is very common in French, where for example Lyonnais means either the region or an inhabitant of Lyonmarker.

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 modeled 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: FrancemarkerFrench (or Frenchman/Frenchwoman) or FlandersFlemish or WalesmarkerWelsh.

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


From native or other languages


Irregular singular forms


New World forms
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 Virginiansmarker have become Presidents of the United States.") There are some exceptions — the attributive adjective for Alaskamarker for many is Alaskan; the same is true for Albertamarker (Albertan) and Hawaiimarker (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 "Connecticutian" or the slightly shorter "Connecticite"; "Nutmegger" is also used.

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 Britishmarker. 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 Urn-–Greek may apply to anything connected with Greece, but Grecian is restricted to ancient culture.
  • Norse gods but Norwegian-–Norwegian being the ordinary adjective for Norway, but Norse being generally used to describe ancient Scandinavian culture. In the Norwegian language, the demonym is not the equivalent of "Norwegian" (norsk, which is also the name of the language), but is equivalent to "Northman" or "Norseman" (normanna, pl. normannene).
  • Israelite but Israeli–-Israelite pertaining to the ancient tribes and kingdom of Israel; Israeli pertaining to the modern nation of the same name.
  • Scotch whisky but Scottish art--Scotch used primarily for food and drink products of Scotland (broth, oats. Also mist) — in most other contexts it is archaic and often considered mildly derogatory; Scottish for anything else pertaining to Scotland. Confusingly, Scots is also used adjectivally when referring to the people of Scotland, and/or to either Scots Gaelic or Scots English (Lowlands).
  • Asian refer to people from Asia, Oriental refers to objects


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.marker Department of Statemarker 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).

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", "Terrene", "terrestrial", and "Earthican" ), and Lilliputians and Brobdingnagians from the islands of Lilliput and Brobdingnag 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 Czechmarker. 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 republikamarker, and the people are Češi. The Dominican Republicmarker has only a demonym-based description for a name.

Both the People's Republic of Chinamarker and the Republic of Chinamarker 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. In the Republic of China, the Chinese identity has been challenged by Taiwanese independalists.

Both North Koreamarker and South Koreamarker 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 Americamarker 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), although americain(e) is preferred), 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). 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 technically includes the USA, Mexico, Canada, but is frequently used in Spanish to refer to the United States only. Frank Lloyd Wright popularized Usonian, from the abbreviation for United States of North America, and which is used Esperanto (country Usono, demonym Usonano, adjective usona). In the spirit of Sydneysidermarker, Statesider is also sometimes seen. See main article: Names for Americans.

Sharing a demonym does not necessarily bring conflict. During the 1996 Olympics, the residents of Atlanta, Georgiamarker gave a rousing applause to the Republic of Georgiamarker during the opening ceremony. Many cities that share the same name have sister city relations, such as Toledo, Ohiomarker and Toledo, Spainmarker. The demonyms for the Caribbean nations Dominican Republicmarker and Dominicamarker, 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: . Another example is the Republic of the Congomarker and the Democratic Republic of the Congomarker. Their nationals are both known as Congolese.

A few residents of the island of Lesbosmarker tried to ban homosexual women from being called lesbians but it was rejected by a court in Athensmarker.

Occasionally, people verbally group a few countries together, and assign one demonym to that group of countries, for example, calling a person from Pakistanmarker an "Indianmarker", possibly because the true origin is unknown or assumed. This is sometimes seen as politically incorrect, and more inclusive terminology has occasionally turned up in common use, such as, in this case, "South Asian".

See also



References

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