Archived Story

What do you call yourself?

Published 9:48am Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Column: Tales from Exit 22

I was driving on Interstate 90 across the southern part of Minnesota. It occurred to me that I have never heard anyone call it “south Minnesota” like someone might refer to “south Texas.” It’s southern Minnesota.

I was motoring from a job in Rochester to another in Worthington. I got to thinking. I try to do that at least once a week. Sometimes I forget. Some words lend themselves to others well. It’s not always onomatopoeia. People from Albert Lea are Albert Leans. People who live in Austin are Austinites. People from my hometown could be either Hartlanders or Hartlandites.

Who are you? Where are you from? And that makes you a what?

I’ll take “Who are you?” for $200, Alex.

My neighbor tapes “Jeopardy!” and watches each episode twice. He enjoys feeling like a genius during the second showing.

We carry a local label based upon our place of residence. How do you identify yourself geographically? You are likely an American but what else are you?

I grabbed a library book that stated that a resident’s name is technically termed a demonym or a gentilic. A demonym can refer to the people who live in a city, township, country, state, county, region, etc. The book was Garner’s Modern American Usage, which introduced me to the title, “denizen label.” The historian George R. Stewart devised seven rules for naming denizens. Paul Dickson’s “Labels for Locals” listed the seven rules as follows.

1. If the place name ends in -a or -ia, add -n (Minnesotan, Iowan, Wasecan, Owatonnan).

2. If the name ends in -i or sounded -e, add -an (Hawaiian).

3. If the name ends in -on, add -ian (Washingtonian, Bostonian).

4. If the name ends in -y, change the -y to an -i and add -an (Mason Citian).

5. If the name ends in -o, add -an (Mankatoan, Chicagoan).

6. If the name ends in a consonant or a silent -e, add either -ite or -er, depending on euphony (an agreeableness of sound) (Mainer, Israelite, New Yorker).

7. If the name ends in -polis, change that to -politan (Minneapolitan).

What is a resident of Wells called? A Wellsite or a Wellser? A resident told me that he preferred Wellsian. Cities that end in -s are difficult to fit. What are the residents of Hayward known as? Haywarders? Haywardites? Nothing wrong

with Haywardians.

Those in St. Paul are St. Paulites and those from Des Moines are—I don’t know. Des Moinesers? Are those in Fairmont known as Fairmonters? I’m not sure what the good folks of Blue Earth call themselves and I’ve asked. Are they Blue Earthers? What are people from Geneva, Kiester and Freeborn called? Freeborners has a nice sound. Kiesterites and Genevans? Are the inhabitants of New Richland known as New Richlanders? Are those living in Ellendale Ellendalers? Are those from Clarks Grove called Clarks Grovers or Clarks Grovites? How about the residents of Northwood, Lake Mills, Alden, Emmons, Conger, Walters, Glenville, Mansfield, Matawan, Myrtle, London, Bath, Easton, Bertha, Westbrook, LeRoy, Walnut Grove, Sherburn, Bricelyn, Hewitt, Twin Lakes, Ceylon, Faribault, Dunnell, Ostrander, Lime Springs, Blooming Prairie, Elmore, Olivia, Hollandale, West Concord, Meriden and Claremont. I apply the rules, but some don’t apply well. They produce odd sounding names. Congerites or Congerers? I like Glenvillians better than Glenvillers, but both Myrtleites and Myrtlers have a certain ring to them. Some are meant to be. East Chain moves easily to East Chainers, as does Bird Island to Bird Islanders and Minnesota Lake to Minnesota Lakers. Are the people of Hope called Hopers? When the city is packed with people, are they Hopefuls? If Hope had a high school team, would its nickname be the Optimists?

There are exceptions. There have to be exceptions or we wouldn’t need rules. The residents of Utah are called Utahns, residents of Phoenix, Ariz., are Phoenicians, occupiers of Las Cruces, N.M., are Crucens, and inhabitants of Independence, Mo., are Independents. Those from Michigan are officially Michiganians, but many prefer Michiganders. One who dwells in Cambridge, Mass., is called a Cantabridgian, the same as his or her counterpart in England. Those living in Los Angeles are Angelenos and Seattle residents are Seattleites.

I talked with a fellow the other day who had moved more often than Laura Ingalls Wilder. He said that one place was pretty much like another. Does anyone believe that? Everywhere that is anywhere is different just like every other place. Even nowhere is.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but it would live somewhere else.


Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Sunday and Wednesday.