What do you call the residents of your Alberta hometown?
Albertarite? Turns out a demonym is more than just a handy suffix
When you're from Alberta, you're an Albertan. But what are you called if you live in Banff or Peace River or Red Deer?
The Government of Canada has an official list of demonyms — a word of Greek origins that refers to names attributed to residents of a particular area.
- Click the Alberta map to see an official demonym. Not represented? Prefer another? Leave a comment. On mobile? See the map here.
One Alberta town with too many options tried to settle the issue of what to call themselves based on where they settled.
In Airdrie, north of Calgary, the local newspaper usually described residents as Airdronians — a term that elicited the odd upset letter to the editor.
Thumbing through the archives revealed that the term Airdronians only dated back to 1987, when a delegation from the town's namesake in Scotland visited. Faced with complaints, the name seemed more suitable for robots and aliens. So, the paper held an online vote last year and the winner was Airdrians.
But the local favourite doesn't even make the Government of Canada's list.
How demonyms evolve
Demonyms happen organically, but are largely determined by the sounds in words, said Darin Flynn, an associate professor of linguistics.
"If the word ends with a vowel, like Cuba, you can't really add -er to it," he said.
"In the end, when you keep track of all the different sound constraints, you still end up with a variety of choices," said Flynn. "So then it becomes interesting to find out what people see as their default, their go-to one. And that varies from place to place."
A glance at the official list shows that in Alberta, the favourite suffix seems to be –ite. Even though phonetically, there are other available options and, according to research by American linguist Samantha Gordon, it's among the least popular of potential suffixes.
"It does refer to place names in general, but it can also refer to minerals. A lot of minerals end in -ite. So it's a good choice," Flynn said.
Falling into patterns
The popularity of the suffix might have to do with human nature to subconsciously converge on a choice. Just like a parent who thinks their baby name choice is unique, only to discover several kids with the same name in kindergarten.
"You think you are being original, but you tend to fall into patterns. It's the same thing happens with these communities. People think they are being original. 'We are going to call ourselves Banffite and that's distinctive and unique!' But no, you're just part of the general trend."
What do you call residents of your community? What would you prefer to be called? Post your thoughts in the comments below. Flynn made up a list of suffixes common to the English language. Of course, there's no need to be constrained by English – you could look to a Québécois or Iqalummiuq for inspiration.
- -(o)nian, as in Humboldtonian, Pictonian, Woodstonian
- -(i)an, as in Canadian, Brockvillian, Kamloopsian
- -(a)n as in Reginan, Neepawan, Ottawan
- -er, as in Saint Johner, Londoner, Montrealer
- -ite, as in Vancouverite, Richmondite, Dawsonite
- -ish, as in Kent: Kentish, Cornwall : Cornish
- -man, as in Chester : Chesterman, Norfolk : Norfolkman
- -ese, as in Viennese, Pekingese
- -i, as in Punjabi, Kabuli
Source: Darin Flynn