A demonym /ˈdɛmənɪm/ is a name given to natives or residents of a place. Traditionally, the term used was gentilic, though this term is now not widely used. A demonym is usually, but not always, derived from the name of a place.[1] For example, the demonym for the people of Canada is Canadian; the demonym for the people of Finland is Finn; the demonym for the people of Germany is German; the demonym for the people of Switzerland is Swiss; the demonym for the people of the Netherlands is Dutch. Some locations have double forms; for example, the demonym for the people of Britain can be either British or Briton.

In many cases, the demonym used for the residents of a locality is also used as an adjectival (also known as an adjectival demonym) — that is, it can be used to modify the term for an object or concept from a particular place. For example, the demonym English can refer to people from England or to objects or concepts relating to England (e.g., English food, the English countryside). In other cases, the adjectival demonym is different from the noun term used to describe a locality's people (e.g., Finns and New Zealanders, but the Finnish language and New Zealand music). A full list of such differences can be found at adjectivals and demonyms for countries and nations.


The word gentilic comes from the Latin gentilis ("of a clan, or gens") and the English suffix -ic. The word demonym comes from the Greek word meaning "populace" (δῆμος demos) with the suffix for "name" (-onym).

National Geographic attributes this term to Merriam-Webster editor Paul Dickson in a recent work from 1990.[2] It was subsequently popularized in this sense in 1997 by Dickson in his book Labels for Locals.[3] Dickson himself, however, in What Do You Call a Person From...? A Dictionary of Resident Names (the first edition of Labels for Locals)[4] attributed the term to George H. Scheetz, in his Names' Names: A Descriptive and Prescriptive Onymicon (1988),[1] which is apparently where the term first appears. 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.[5][6]

Some places, particularly smaller cities and towns, may not have an established word for their residents, which poses a challenge to toponymists, who have a particular challenge in researching these.

Demonyms as roots

While many demonym are derived from placenames, many countries are named for their inhabitants (Finland for the Finns, Germany for the Germans, Thailand for the Thai, Denmark for the Danes, France for the Franks, Slovakia for the Slovaks, and Slovenia for the Slovenes). Tribes and peoples generally have a longer continuous history than their countries; tribal names often imply a descent from a single ancestor, such as Rus, the legendary ancestor of the Kievan Rus, the precursor to modern Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. 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 are often the same word. This dual function is very common in French, where for example Lyonnais means either the region or an inhabitant of Lyon. Examples include:


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, Celtic or Germanic suffixes, such as:





states / provinces:




″German″ is not derived by suffixation of the term "Germ"; rather, it is the shortened form of Latin "Germani."




cities / states / provinces:










Often used for European locations and Canadian locations.


as adaptations from the standard Spanish suffix -(eñ/n)o. countries:




"-ish" is usually only proper as an adjective. Thus many common "-ish" forms have irregular demonyms, e.g. Britain/British/Briton; Denmark/Danish/Dane; England/English/Englishman; Finland/Finnish/Finn; Flanders/Flemish/Fleming; Ireland/Irish/Irishman; Kurdistan/Kurdish/Kurd; Poland/Polish/Pole; Scotland/Scottish/Scot; Spain/Spanish/Spaniard; Sweden/Swedish/Swede; Turkey/Turkish/Turk.


Often used for Middle Eastern locations and European locations.



-ese, -lese or -nese


"-ese" is usually considered proper only as an adjective, or to refer to the entirety.[citation needed] Thus, "a Chinese person" is used rather than "a Chinese". Often used for East Asian and Francophone locations, from the similar-sounding French suffix -ais(e), which is originally from the Latin adjectival ending -ensis, designating origin from a place: thus Hispaniensis (Spanish), Danensis (Danish), etc.



Mostly for Middle Eastern and South Asian locales and in Latinate names for the various people that ancient Romans encountered (e.g. Allemanni, Helvetii)


Derives from a Greek[10] suffix widely used outside ethnonyms (e.g., chemical compounds), which with regard to people is mostly used adjectivally (Semite vs. Semitic Arab/Arabian vs. Arabic) to refer to a wider ethnic or linguistic group (Turkic vs. Turkish, Finnic vs. Finnish).


Used especially for Greek locations.


Often used for French locations.



Often used for British and Irish locations.


Irregular forms

There are many irregular demonyms for recently formed entities, such as those in the New World. There are other demonyms that 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: FranceFrench (or Frenchman/Frenchwoman) or FlandersFlemish or WalesWelsh.

In some of the latter cases the noun is formed by adding -man or -woman, for example 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 gentilics as attributive adjectives (for example, "California chardonnay" is more common than "Californian chardonnay"); thus they are generally used only predicatively ("Ben Franklin was Pennsylvanian") or substantively ("Eight Virginians have become Presidents of the United States"). There are some exceptions – the attributive adjective for Alaska for many is Alaskan; the same is true for Alberta (Albertan), Texas (Texan), and Hawaii (Hawaiian).

A person who is a native or resident of Indiana is a Hoosier, an irregular gentilic whose origin is obscure. The state's official nickname is "The Hoosier State". Hoosier is also an attributive adjective (e.g.: "the Hoosier Lottery"). Gentilics like "Indianan" or "Indianian" are attributed to the state by federal publications and dictionaries, but are confusing at best and not used in practice. (Since "Indiana" literally means "land of the Indians", the historical mistake initiated by Columbus becomes inherently absurd and clunky: "of the people of the land of the Indians," or perhaps "of the land of the land of the Indians", or even "of the land of the land of the land of the people of India") A search of the state's official website at in.gov on June 16, 2010 found 13 instances of the word Indianian and 47 of the word Indianan, compared to more than 20,000 of the word Hoosier.

Double forms

Some regions and populaces also have double forms, as the concepts of nation and state are diverging once more. Hence, one whose ancestors were from the British Isles is a Briton (derived from Roman "Brittonic", which is in turn derived from the Greek "Pretani") - not to be confused with the ancient tribe, the Britons - and citizens are also considered British. The Franks settled France, but the citizens are French. This may be the case for states that were formed or dissolved relatively recently. As in the examples below, another reason for double forms of gentilics may be in relation to historical, cultural or religious issues.

In the United States, Asian refers to people or objects from Asia (most commonly when unqualified East Asia) but Oriental refers to objects. In the United Kingdom and Ireland, Asian without qualification would usually refer to people and things from the Indian sub-continent, and Oriental is not considered an offensive term. It is far more common, however, to use the gentilic of the specific nationality when it is known.

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. Department of State states that 98 percent of the Austrian population is ethnically German,[12] while the CIA World Factbook contradicts this assertion by saying Austrians are a separate group (see Various terms used for Germans).[13]


Literature and science have created a wealth of gentilics that are not directly associated with a cultural group. These will typically be formed using the standard models above. Examples include Martian for hypothetical people of Mars (credited to scientist Percival Lowell) or Gondorian for the people of Tolkien's fictional land of Gondor.

Other science fiction examples include Jovian for those of Jupiter or its moons, and Venusian for those of Venus. Fictional aliens refer to the inhabitants of Earth as Earthling (from the diminutive -ling, ultimately from Old English -ing meaning "descendant"), as well as "Terran", "Terrene", "Tellurian", "Earther", "Earthican", "terrestrial", and "Solarian" (from Sol, the sun). Said gentilics of planets are often used astronomically to describe characteristics, such as surface, satellites, and weather, of the same planets: e.g., a Jovian storm.

Fantasy literature which involves other worlds or other lands also has a rich supply of gentilics. Examples include Lilliputians and Brobdingnagians, from the islands of Lilliput and Brobdingnag in the satire Gulliver's Travels.

In a few cases, where a linguistic background has been created, non-standard gentilics are formed (or the eponyms back-formed). Examples include Tolkien's Rohirrim (from Rohan) and the Star Trek world's Klingon people (with various version of homeworld name).

Cultural problems

There will often be differences between endonyms (terms used by groups themselves) and exonyms (terms used by outsiders to describe a group). Exonyms often lack the internal variety of endonyms: they often lump together groups who see themselves as distinct. For example, terms like Iroquois, Aztec, Māori, and Eskimo might be used by outsiders to refer to groups as a whole, whereas members of each of these groups will favor more differentiated endonyms. In extreme cases, groups may take an exonym as being pejorative; one prominent example is the case of the Inuit of Canada, who are often grouped together with the linguistically related but distinct Yupik people by the exonym Eskimo. Languages also might make use of grammatical differences that are lost when translated: in Czech, for example, the language is Čeština, the nation is Česká republika, and the people are Češi.

The governments of both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China 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. However, in the Republic of China, consisting mostly of Taiwan, some inhabitants do not consider themselves Chinese, while others consider themselves both Chinese and Taiwanese.[14]

Both North Korea and South Korea officially refer to their nationals simply as Koreans, since they recognize a single nationhood even if they refuse to recognize each other. They have diplomatic relations with states that recognize their rival.

The gentilic for citizens of the United States of America suffers a similar problem albeit non-politically[citation needed], because "American" may ambiguously refer to both the nation, the USA, and the conjoined continent pair, North and South America. The word "American" in English may to most English speakers refer exclusively to a person, place or object from the USA, but the word "americano" in Spanish would usually refer to anyone from either North or South America, including Latin Americans, and Latin Americans speaking English might also use the word "American" in the same way. Until the United States rose to world prominence in the 20th century, many Europeans would also use the word "American" in their own languages to refer to anyone from the entire Americas (more often to those of native American descent), and not just to people from the United States.

To give a more specific English-language gentilic for US citizens other than "American" however would be somewhat challenging: United Statesian is not used in English, but a similar word exists in Spanish (estadounidense), French (étatsunien(ne), although américain(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 gentilic 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 and Canada, but is frequently used in Spanish and Portuguese to refer to the United States only. Frank Lloyd Wright proposed Usonian, from the abbreviation for United States of North America, and which is used in Esperanto (country Usono, demonym Usonano, adjective usona). In the spirit of Sydneysider, Statesider is also sometimes seen. See main article: Names for Americans.

Sharing a demonym does not necessarily bring conflict. During the 1996 Summer Olympics, the residents of Atlanta, Georgia gave a rousing applause to the Eurasian state of Georgia during the opening ceremony. Many cities that share the same name have sister city relations, such as Toledo, Ohio and Toledo, Spain. The demonyms for the Caribbean nations Dominican Republic and Dominica, though pronounced differently, are spelt the same way, Dominican. The former country's gentilic is the ordinary English adjective "Dominican", stressed on the second syllable. The gentilic for Dominica, like the name of the country, is stressed on the third syllable: /ˌdɒmɪˈnkən/. Another example is the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their nationals are both known as Congolese. Another is that of Washington D.C. and Washington State; their inhabitants are both known as Washingtonians. In general, there is also warmth rather than antagonism between towns which share the same name in different countries, with several becoming sister cities. In these cases, the demonym for residents of the two cities is often identical.

A few residents of the island of Lesbos tried to ban homosexual women from being called lesbians but it was rejected by a court in Athens.[15]

See also


  1. ^ a b George H. Scheetz (1988). Names' Names: A Descriptive and Pervasive Onymicon. Schütz Verlag.
  2. ^ "Gentilés, Demonyms: What's in a Name?". National Geographic Magazine. 177. National Geographic Society (U.S.): 170. February 1990.
  3. ^ William Safire (1997-12-14). "On Language; Gifts of Gab for 1998". New York Times.
  4. ^ What Do You Call a Person From...? A Dictionary of Resident Names by Paul Dickson (Facts on File, February 1990). ISBN 978-0-8160-1983-0.
  5. ^ a b "Oxford English Dictionary". Oxford University Press.
  6. ^ "Aristotle's Constitution of Athens, edited by J.E. Sandy, at the Internet Archive". p. 116.
  7. ^ http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/corkonian
  8. ^ "Investing in Future, Quiet Manhattan Apartments Next to Construction Sites" http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/12/realestate/manhattan-apartments-next-to-construction-sites.html
  9. ^ Paul Dickson (15 August 2006). Labels for Locals : What to Call People from Abilene to Zimbabwe (1st Collins ed.). New York: HarperCollins. p. 208. ISBN 978-0-06-088164-1. ((cite book)): |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  10. ^ http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=-ic&allowed_in_frame=0
  11. ^ http://www.nwemail.co.uk/home/2.4887/what-it-means-to-be-barrovian-1.280102
  12. ^ "U.S. Department of State". U.S. Department of State. U.S. Department of State. 2007-08-28. Retrieved 2007-08-28.
  13. ^ "CIA World Factbook". CIA World Factbook. CIA World Factbook. 2007-08-28. Retrieved 2007-08-28.
  14. ^ Yun-han Chu and Chia-lung Lin (16–17 December 1998). "The Construction of Taiwanese Identity and Cross-Strait Relations". Taiwan Security Research. Retrieved 7 December 2009. A general survey conducted after the 1996 presidential election found that 47.8% of the population said that they were proud of being of both Taiwanese and Chinese, compared to 20.8% proud of being only a Taiwanese and not as a Chinese and only 5.5% proud of being a Chinese and not as a Taiwanese.
  15. ^ Court rules lesbians are not just from Lesbos