The United States of demonyms

Anyone like the term “Washingtonian”?

By Morf Morford, Tacoma Daily Index

A demonym is a word that describes citizens of a specific place, in most cases derived from, or an extension of, the name of that town or state.

It comes from the Greek term “demo” or “demos” for people, and “nym” for name.

Our current governor seems to use the term “Washingtonian” to describe residents of our state on a regular basis.

I don’t remember any previous governor – or anyone, actually – using that term before.

Some states have a moniker that emerges naturally and flows when it is used.

The terms “Texan”, “New Yorker” and “Alaskan” flow easily – while labels like “Connecticuter”, “Massachusettsan”, “Wyomingite” and “New Hampshirite” clearly do not.

Those are the official demonyms as recommended by the United States Government Publishing Office.

You’d think there would be a system of some sort for something so basic as how we define ourselves and our regional origins and identities.

It’s not always easy to guess the demonym of certain places. Some are easy and obvious, but some are, to put it simply, just plain awkward.

You might think that you could just add -an or an -ite or even an -er to the name of the place to get a demonym but it’s not always the case, especially with names of many of our states, cities and counties.

For whatever reason, several states in New England use -er – as in New Yorker, Vermonter and even Mainer, many states in the mid-West use -an (Coloradan, Iowan, Texan and many more).

A few states only add one letter to describe its residents – Nevada (Nevadan), Iowa (Iowan) and Utah (Utahn) and a very few others.

Most states enlarge their original state name with their demonym – only two states don’t – Kansas (Kansan) and Texas (Texan).

One state completely abandons its state name to describe its residents – Indiana. The term “Hoosier” is used to describe Indiana residents. After all, what term could they use? Indianians? Indianites?

Washingtonians Unite! Or not.

Residents of Washington, DC have used the term “Washingtonian” for decades.

It was even the name of a popular regional magazine.

Every once in a while talk emerges about Washington DC becoming a state. To put it mildly, it would be complicated.

But a basic question emerges; what would those residents be called?

Some locals (I have heard) use the term DC-ites.

But most of them are accustomed to using the term “Washingtonian” and they are attached to it – at least more than we (the residents of the state of Washington) seem to be.

Maybe it’s just me, but the term “Washingtonian” seems to sum up everything our state is not; elongated, pretentious and, most of all, not very descriptive – or poetic.

We, the residents of Washington state, need a name that fits us and is as dynamic and unique as the rivers, mountains, glaciers, and yes, the rain, that flows and, in the present and for millennia have truly defined our region.

Geologically and geographically, we in the upper left corner of the US map, with a northern boundary facing Canada and our western edge facing the Pacific Ocean, have, in some ways at least, more in common with Canada or the open ocean than with the rest of our own country.

All it takes is for a few mountain passes to close and a problem on southbound I-5, or perhaps a volcano, an earthquake or a long overdue tsunami, and we are, except for air traffic (which has also not been very stable lately), cut off from the rest of the country indefinitely.

We have weather, geological features and characteristics that few other states have.

We have, for example, the most extensive in-state ferry system of any of the other US states.

We also have more than our share of volcanoes.

And few states, other than Alaska, hold more wilderness than we do.

About a third of our state is national forest, essentially cutting our state into two separate ecosystems.

Besides major cities (and over 70 ports, you can see them here: we have major agricultural areas. A state senator told me several years ago that we produce, within our state boundaries, enough food to feed the rest of the country.

But even with all that, we don’t need a long and complicated name to describe ourselves. We need a name that sums up, reflects and, in a word or two, captures the essence of who we are and where we are going.

Birthplace of Boeing and home to Starbucks, Amazon and Microsoft, with snow-capped vistas in the distance from almost everywhere, we need a name that suits us.

We are, oddly enough, the only state named after a US president.

I’m not at all convinced that the term “Washingtonian” is much of an honor to our first president.

It seems clumsy and forced. And even artificial. In short, nothing like our state or the president it purports to honor.

If you have an idea for what residents of our state should be called, send them to us, or better yet, just start using it. Who knows? It just might catch on.