What is a Demonym?

"Canadian" and "American" are both examples of demonyms.
"Canadian" and "American" are both examples of demonyms.

What Is A Demonym?

A demonym, also known as gentilic, is a word used to describe the people who live in a given place. The same word is also used to refer to the language spoken by the people. For instance, the English are people from England who speak the English language. However, in some cases, no word can be used to describe inhabitants of a place.


The word gentilic was derived from the Latin word gentilis which means “of a clan”. On the other hand, demonym was derived from the Greek word which means “populace”. The suffix for “name” is –onym used in the creation of the word demonym. The word is believed to have been coined or revived by Paul Dickson of Merriam-Webster in 1997. However, some people attribute the term to George H. Scheetz. They believe that the first time the word was ever mentioned was in his early literary works such as in “What Do You Call a Person From…? A Dictionary of Resident Names” It is suspected to have been first used in 1893 as “demonymic”.

Ways Of Creating Demonyms

The most common way of creating demonyms is by adding suffixes to the names of the locations. The suffixes may either be Germanic, Latin, Celtic or Semitic. They may take different forms such as addition of suffixes –an to America to form American, -ian to Russia to form Russian, -eno to Los Angeles to form Los Angeleno, -sh to Denmark to form Danish, -ese to Vietnam to form Vietnamese, -i to Iraq to form Iraqi, -ic to Hispania to form Hispanic, and –iote to Cyprus to form Cypriote.

In some cases, the suffixes may take irregular forms. These include the French for people who live in France and the Dutch for the Netherland people. Furthermore, demonyms are usually nouns and adjectives. However in Canada and the US, they are never used as adjectives. When used as adjectives and nouns, the demonyms mostly take the same form. For example there’s the Canadian noun and Canadian adjective. However, in the case of people from Spain, the demonyms Spanish and Spaniard are used interchangeably to refer to the noun and adjective. Demonyms are capitalized in the English language.

Special Demonyms

Most people who were taken over by the European colonists do not have demonyms. Alternatively, they may have demonyms which take the name of their nations. These demonyms include Aztec, Iroquois, and Czech. The explanation for this occurrence is that the forms of languages of these people were never used by the English. Using the Czech nation to demonstrate, the language is Čeština, the country is called Česko republika, and the inhabitants of Czech are Češi. Additionally, the term “American” is also problematic since it is used for people who live in the US as well as those who inhabit North and South America. People living in North and South America would have been easily called Americas, however, it is popular for them to be identified as Americans too. Hence differentiating people from these continents from those of US origin is quite difficult.


More in Society