A demonym (/ˈdɛmənɪm/; from
Ancient Greekδῆμος (dêmos) 'people, tribe', and ὄνυμα (ónuma) 'name') or gentilic (from
Latingentilis 'of a clan, or
gens') is a word that identifies a group of people (inhabitants, residents, natives) in relation to a particular place. Demonyms are usually derived from the name of the place (hamlet, village, town, city, region, province, state, country, continent, planet, and beyond). Demonyms are used to designate all people (the general population) of a particular place, regardless of ethnic, linguistic, religious or other cultural differences that may exist within the population of that place. Examples of demonyms include Cochabambino, for someone from the city of
Cochabamba; French for a person from France; and Swahili, for a person of the
As a sub-field of
anthroponymy, the study of demonyms is called demonymy or demonymics.
Since they are referring to territorially defined groups of people, demonyms are
semantically different from
ethnonyms (names of
ethnic groups). In the
English language, there are many
polysemic words that have several meanings (including demonymic and ethnonymic uses), and therefore a particular use of any such word depends on the context. For example, the word Thai may be used as a demonym, designating any inhabitant of
Thailand, while the same word may also be used as an ethnonym, designating members of the
Thai people. Conversely, some groups of people may be associated with multiple demonyms. For example, a native of the
United Kingdom may be called a British person, a Briton or, informally, a Brit.
Some demonyms may have several meanings. For example, the demonym Macedonians may refer to the population of
North Macedonia, or more generally to the entire population of the
region of Macedonia, a portion of which is in
Greece. In some languages, a demonym may be borrowed from another language as a nickname or descriptive adjective for a group of people: for example, Québécois, Québécoise (female) is commonly used in English for a native of the province or city of
Quebec (though Quebecer, Quebecker are also available).
Often, demonyms are the same as the adjectival form of the place, e.g. Egyptian, Japanese, or Greek.
English commonly uses national demonyms such as Ethiopian or Guatemalan, while the usage of local demonyms such as Chicagoan, Okie or Parisian is less common. Many local demonyms are rarely used and many places, especially smaller towns and cities, lack a commonly used and accepted demonym altogether.
National Geographic attributes the term demonym to
Paul Dickson in a work from 1990. The word did not appear for nouns, adjectives, and verbs derived from geographical names in the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary nor in prominent style manuals such as the Chicago Manual of Style. It was subsequently popularized in this sense in 1997 by Dickson in his book Labels for Locals. However, in What Do You Call a Person From...? A Dictionary of Resident Names (the first edition of Labels for Locals) Dickson attributed the term to George H. Scheetz, in his Names' Names: A Descriptive and Prescriptive Onymicon (1988), which is apparently where the term first appears. The term may have been fashioned after demonymic, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as the name of an
Atheniancitizen according to the
deme to which the citizen belongs, with its first use traced to 1893.
Several linguistic elements are used to create demonyms in the
English language. The most common is to add a
suffix to the end of the location name, slightly modified in some instances. These may resemble
Germanic suffixes, such as -(a)n, -ian, -anian, -nian, -in(e), -a(ñ/n)o/a, -e(ñ/n)o/a, -i(ñ/n)o/a, -ite, -(e)r, -(i)sh, -ene, -ensian, -ard, -ese, -nese, -lese, -i(e), -i(ya), -iot, -iote, -k, -asque, -(we)gian, -onian, -vian, -ois(e), or -ais(e).
"-ese" is usually considered proper only as an adjective, or to refer to the entirety. Thus, "a Chinese person" is used rather than "a Chinese". Often used for Italian and East Asian, from the Italian suffix -ese, which is originally from the Latin adjectival ending -ensis, designating origin from a place: thus Hispaniensis (Spanish), Danensis (Danish), etc. The use in demonyms for
Francophone locations is motivated by the similar-sounding French suffix -ais(e), which is at least in part a relative (< lat. -ensis or -iscus, or rather both).
Middle Eastern and
South Asian locales. -i is encountered also in Latinate names for the various people that ancient Romans encountered (e.g.
Helvetii). -ie is rather used for English places.
It is much rarer to find Demonyms created with a prefix. Mostly they are from Africa and the Pacific, and are not generally known or used outside the country concerned. In much of East Africa, a person of a particular ethnic group will be denoted by a prefix. For example, a person of the
Luba people would be a Muluba, the plural form Baluba, and the language,
Tshiluba. Similar patterns with minor variations in the prefixes exist throughout on a tribal level. And Fijians who are indigenous Fijians are known as Kaiviti (Viti being the Fijian name for
Fiji). On a country level:
Demonyms may also not conform to the underlying naming of a particular place, but instead arise out of historical or cultural particularities that become associated with its denizens. In the United States such demonyms frequently become associated with regional pride such as the burqueño of
Albuquerque, or with the mascots of intercollegiate sports teams of the
state university system, take for example the
Oklahoma and the
Since names of places, regions and countries (
morphologically often related to names of ethnic groups (
ethnonyms), various ethnonyms may have similar, but not always identical, forms as terms for general population of those places, regions or countries (demonyms).
Literature and science fiction 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), Gondorian for the people of
Tolkien's fictional land of
Gondor, and Atlantean for
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).
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
Brobdingnag in the satire Gulliver's Travels.
In a few cases, where a linguistic background has been
constructed, non-standard gentilics are formed (or the eponyms back-formed). Examples include Tolkien's Rohirrim (from
Rohan), the Star Trek franchise's Klingons (with various names for their homeworld), and the
Sangheili from the Halo franchise, (also known as Elites in the game by humans, as well as players) named after their homeworld of
^Prior to the Massachusetts State Legislature designating "Bay Stater" as the state's official demonym, other terms used included Massachusett, borrowed from the native
Massachusett tribe, Massachusite, championed by the early English
Brahmins, Massachusettsian, by analogy with other state demonyms, and Masshole, originally derogatory.