I hope I don’t disappoint you when I tell you that demonyms have nothing to do with demons. (For that I’d recommend The Dictionary of Demons by Belanger.) Rather, the demo is demos, a Greek word for the people and, more significantly for the fillip, the name for a certain type of municipality in Greece. Thus a demonym is a name given to describe a person from a particular place.
Eighty-two point seven percent of the time figuring out what to call someone from somewhere is no big deal. You throw -er or -al or -ian or -ite on to the end of the place name or its root and you’ve got it. (There was even a guy, George Stewart, who, back in the 30s, published seven laws for compiling demonyms. But this is Friday and we turn away from such regulation with just a trifle of scorn.)
Of course, a bunch of the time — seventeen point three percent, I’d estimate — it ain’t so easy. Imagine the concern of the first Englishman to learn that people from France weren’t Francers and that if from Paris they weren’t Parisites. Chances are, however, that said Englishman was himself a Mancunian and, living in Manchester as he would be, could get by without serious contact with Francers, thus avoiding the problem of what to call them.
The thing for much of Britain is the Romans, who ran the place for the best part of four hundred years and left behind a lot of their sort of place names (taking with them when they left, alas, the secrets of hot water, indoor plumbing, and much of civilization). Thus, today’s Manchester was once Mancunium, hence Mancunian. Mind you, poncy Latin doesn’t always thrill the Brit, and so though people from Newcastle (on Tyne) are properly Novocastrians, they’ll actually be Geordies.
I’m apparently entitled to style myself a Leodensian (though I’m an Aries), would probably get a better reception as a Loiner, and tend to call myself simply someone from Leeds. Not too far from there — nothing in Britain is far from anywhere — are Glaswegians, Brummies (Birmingham), Liverpudlians (Liverpool wins my award ✬ for the best demonym ever) and, in imitation, Hartlepudlians. But the fun continues around the world. Here are some nifty global demonyms for your delectation, in no particular order:
- Vallisoletano (Vallodolid)
- Paulistanos (São Paulo)
- Madrileño (Madrid)
- Muscovite (Moscow)
- Varsovian (Warsaw)
- Torontonian (Center of the universe)
- Galwegians (Galway)
- Mumbaikar (Mumbai)
- Carioca (Rio de Janeiro)
- Salemander (Salem)
That last one sounds contrived to me. Now, if you’re going to make ‘em up as you go along, there’s a huge potential for fun — well, insult might be a better term. Thus, I’m told that people from Tasmania are sometimes disparagingly referred to as Tawegians by people to the north of that state, which is a sort of double whammy when you think about it. Baltimore cries out for Baltimorons; and any burgh the name of which ends in -ham (e.g. Bellingham) lends itself quite readily to -hamster. (Bellingham, by the way, always makes me think of Balham, and Peter Sellers’ magnificent piece of satire, “Balham, gateway to the south.” But I’m a digresser.)
Last but not least: Canada. We have an official demonym website. Yes we do. On the Language Portal of Canada. Most of what you’ll find there is of the rather dull -er and -ian variety; some of it is of English origin, like Haligonian; but here and there you’ll find home-made novelty. So those who live in:
- Rivière-du-Loup are Louperivois,
- Barkmere are Bark Lakers,
- Waterloo are Waterluvian,
- Moose Jaw are Moose Javian,
- Notre-Dame-de-Grâce are NDGers [pronounced how?],
- Saint John are Saint Johners,
- St. John’s are St. John’sans or St. John’sers
- Trois Rivière are Trifluvians (Trifluviens)
Let me leave you with an issue that’s a sort of demonym problem, if you consider Slaw a place — it certainly is a site, after all. So someone who “lives” here should be called what? I often use Slawyer. But John Gregory brought more thought to the issue, recognizing the parallel of Slaw and Shaw (as in GBS). This would result in Slavian to parallel Shavian. (You might well have a Moose Javian Shavian.) But Slavian is . . . less than lovely, perhaps, hence his choice of Slawian instead. Are there choices we’ve missed?