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Are you an –ite, an –ian or an -er?

Do you know what a demonym is? What if I were to ask you to tell me what the term Torontonian meant? You’d probably be able to tell me that this term describes someone who lives or is from the city of Toronto, and that’s precisely what demonym means.
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Demonyms are the words we use to identify ourselves as being from a particular community geographically — Sudburian, for instance. What demonym best describes you? File photo
Do you know what a demonym is?

What if I were to ask you to tell me what the term Torontonian meant? You’d probably be able to tell me that this term describes someone who lives or is from the city of Toronto, and that’s precisely what demonym means. It is a term used to attribute the name of place or location to someone, usually a resident, and generally involves adding a suffix, such as “ian” or “nian” in the case of Toronto.

The term traces its origins back to ancient Greece and is de-rived from the word “deme,” which was used to describe a township. The adjective demonymic, therefore, describes the process of attributing the name to an Athenian citizen according to the deme that they reside. Currently, the word deme is still used to describe an administrative division in modern Greece.

The Government of Canada’s Language Portal has a “non-exhaustive” list of Canadian demonyms, with 180 listed to describe Canadian residents from coast to coast. Some of these terms are used to describe more than one place. For example, referring to yourself as a Cochranite could mean you are from Cochrane, Alberta or Cochrane, Ontario.

In looking at the entries for Ontario, there are 45 in total, 36 from southern Ontario and a mere nine from the North. Besides the nine communities listed on the website, (featured below) what do Northern Ontarians call themselves?

Demonym Resident of:
Cochranite         Cochrane
Eliot Laker         Elliot Lake
Espanolian         Espanola
Fort Francian     Fort Frances
Kenoraite           Kenora
Parry Sounder    Parry Sound
Red Laker           Red Lake
Saulite               Sault Ste. Marie
Sioux Lookouter   Sioux Lookout
*Source: “Demonyms-From coast to coast to coast,” Language Portal of Canada.

Noticeably absent from this list were major centres that included North Bay, Sudbury, and Thunder Bay. “Bay” cities commonly add the suffix “ite” to form their demonym, so one could assume that those living on the Lakehead might refer to themselves as Thunder Bayites.

Then again, amalgamation might also add an interesting wrinkle to this conversation. The cities of Fort William and Port Arthur merged in 1970 to form Thunder Bay. Do residents from these districts refer to themselves as Thunder Bayites or do their demonyms harken back to the era before amalgamation?

The same goes for Greater Sudbury, which became a regional municipality in 1973 that included communities such as Valley East and Rayside-Balfour within its boundaries. More recently, it amalgamated in 2001 to form the City of Greater Sudbury.

Would someone from Chelmsford or Azilda refer to themselves as a Sudburian? Probably not, since it would not pay homage to the unique history and experience of the community they grew up in or currently reside.

The question becomes murkier when Northern Ontarians travel outside of the province or even the region. For example, if you’re from Lively, it’s often easier to tell someone you’re from Sudbury rather than explain to them where you really reside.

Anecdotally, when my wife and I were in California last summer, when asked what part of Canada we were from, it was more straightforward for us to say that we lived four hours north of Toronto than take the time to explain where Sudbury is on a map.

In hindsight, as much as it would require some additional effort, and perhaps patience, we should have specified where we were from. We are proud to call Northern Ontario home and we should have gone to greater lengths to help fellow travellers know the North.

What do you call yourself? Let us know where you hail from and if your northern community, municipality, town or city has a common demonym in usage. Drop us a line at info@northernpolicy.ca.

Mike Commito is a policy analyst with Northern Policy Institute.