Venezuelan, Berliner, Indonesian … but what do you call someone from the Central African Republic? or La Paz? Let’s talk English demonyms

I love the English language in all its vagaries. And I love that there is a word for pretty much everything. Okay, far from everything – we’ve no word like the Danish samlermani (a mania for collecting) or the Hawaiian ho’oponopono (solving a problem by talking it out) – but so often there is a word for specific little things where you would have completely understood if there wasn’t. And I’m not talking scientific words and jargon, I’m talking the tine, for example, and the tragus (respectively, a spike on a fork and the cartilage poking out into the middle of your ear next to your jaw).

It gets even more interesting when you’re dealing with foreign places, ideas and objects. Focusing in on just place names, sometimes in English we’ll develop our own words, like Munich for München, Dolomites for Dolomiti and Parisian for Parisien / Parisienne, but anyone with a hint of linguistic knowledge knows that English is a great collaborator, far from snobby. We happily take on words from other languages, and in the world of demonyms this means someone from Réunion can stay a Réunionnais (or alternatively be called Réunionese) and someone hailing from Lesotho can still be called a Basotho.

So let’s look now at some of the more unusual demonyms, at least from my vantage point at the southern tip of Africa…

Unusual demonyms

  • Burkina Faso = Burkinabè / Burkinabé
  • Burma = Burmese or, more interestingly, Bamar
  • La Paz = Paceño
  • Oslo = Oslovian
  • Central African Republic = Central African (I feel for them – you tell someone abroad that you’re Central African and I bet 99% take that for a regional, not national, clarification)
  • Cambridge = Cantabrigian

Sometimes you get a choice

  • Azerbaijan = Azerbaijani / Azeri
  • Hong Kong = Hongkonger / Hongkongese
  • Latvia = Latvian / Lett
  • Monaco = Monégasque / Monacan
  • Western Sahara = Sahrawi / Sahraouis
  • United Arab Emirates = Emirati / Emirian / Emiri
  • Liverpool = Liverpudlian / Scouser (colloquial)

Too close for comfort

Sometimes one could wish for a little more differentiation.

  • Niger = Nigerien and Nigeria = Nigerian
  • Turkey = Turk and Turkmenistan = Turkmen (both of which are Turkic peoples)

Colloquialisms

  • West Australia = Westralian
  • Kuala Lampur = KL-ite
  • Costa Rico = Tico
  • Falkland Islands = Belonger
  • Hong Kong = Hongkie
  • Durban = Durbanite (that’s me!)

Not yet coined

Some places are yet, as far as I can tell, to be given an English demonym, or at least do not have formalised and/or widely known ones. So I suggest we have fun making them up.

  • Kigali, Rwanda = Kigal, or Kigalian (?)
  • Bloemfontein, South Africa = Bloemer (pronounced “bloomer”) (?)
  • Gabarone, Botswana = Gaborian, or Gabot (?)
  • Scarborough, England = Scarborite, Scarbor, or Scarbie (?)
  • Limpopo (province), South Africa = Limpopian, Limpopee, or Limpo (?)

Do you live somewhere small or remote with an unusual or lesser-known demonym? Please share with me – I’d love to hear it!

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2 responses to “Venezuelan, Berliner, Indonesian … but what do you call someone from the Central African Republic? or La Paz? Let’s talk English demonyms”

  1. Emma says :

    Nice one Megs!

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