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Face Your Demonyms

We all have our own demons to deal with. And, when talking about the demons behind our language, one that creeps out the ground more often than not is how to properly write or say a demonym or gentilic in a translation project or an interpretation session. In English, there are many ways to write a demonym. We rely on a number of suffixes to properly refer to a person’s nationality, place of origin or to refer to the inhabitants of one place. As it happens with most grammatical rules, there are always exceptions when it comes to creating a demonym. Some of these suffixes are: -an (as in American, Roman), -ian (as in Parisian, Russian, or Indian), -ine (as in Argentine), -ite (as in Vancouverite or Muscovite) (this one mostly refers to cities), -er (Londoner or New Zealander), -eno (as in Angeleno or Los Angeleno), -ish (as in Spanish or Finnish), –ese (as in Chinese, Viennese or Portuguese), -i (as in Bengali, or Iraqi) and –iote (as in Cypriote). Then come the irregulars or exceptions to the rule: Dutch, French, Dane or Pole for example.

From the list above, -an and –ian are the most common ones. If we refer to any South American country, for example, almost all of them (including the other form for Argentina “Argentinian,” which also carries the demonym “Argentinean,” make up your mind people!) carry the suffix –an and/or –ian, with the exception of Surinamese, Guyanese and French Guianan or simply Guianan. For example: Venezuelan, Colombian, Peruvian, Bolivian, Brazilian, Chilean, Ecuadorian, etc. European countries offer a bit more variety within the English language, for example: Irish, Italian, Portuguese, Swiss, Czech, Dutch, Dane and Pole (as mentioned above), etc.

Now, the real demons creep out when we try to say the demonym or gentilic for people from a specific city or county. This is difficult for most Americans, so imagine coming across some of these when doing a translation, or coming up with the demonym on the spot during an interpretation session. Although it might not be that common to say “I’m a Birminghamian,” (from Alabama) these are terms that we need to be acquainted with given the circumstance. Here are just a few: Houstonians (as they became breaking news due to unfortunate reasons recently), Bostonians (happy to come on top of the East league with their Red Sox) Michiganians or Michiganders (creators of delicacies such as the Coney Dogs and Wet Burritos, we thank you for that!), as well as New Orleanians, Phoenicians, Saskatchewanians, Iowa Citians, and Seattleites. And it doesn’t get any better for European cities: Amsterdammers, Loiners (from Leeds), or Liverpudlians (to give you a hint, The Beatles are Liverpudlians).

It does seem as if demonyms are a minefield, but they are necessary demons we need to know and have on our side should the final battle come to be.