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Author's aim was to name

by Bernadette Kinlaw | October 1, 2018 at 1:52 a.m.

Why is a person from Boston called a "Bostonian" while a person from New York is called a "New Yorker"?

As with many things, the answers aren't so simple.

An expansive 20th-century writer named George R. Stewart created a set of rules on how residents of states and cities get their names.

Studying the methods of forming proper names or words in a particular discipline is called "onomastics," which sounds ominous but isn't. It comes from the Greek word "ounouma," meaning name.

The name of a person based on residence is also called demonym or gentilic.

Here are the rules Stewart compiled in the 1930s.

1. If the locality ends in an "a" or an "ia," add an "n."

Iowan, Virginian.

2. If the locality ends in "i" or sounds like an "e," add an "an."

Cincinnatian, Albuquerquean.

3. If the place ends in "on," add an "ian."

Houstonian, Washingtonian.

4. If the place ends in "y," change the "y" to "i" and add "an."

Kansas Citian, Italian.

5. Add an "an" if the locality ends in "o."

Ohioan, Chicagoan.

6. Add "ite" or "er" to a place ending in a consonant or a silent "e."

Seattleite, New Yorker.

7. For places ending in "polis," remove the "s" and add "tan."

Minneapolitan, Annapolitan

It shouldn't be a surprise that many, many place names don't follow these guidelines.

A person from Paris would be a "Parisite" if the rules were followed strictly. Ick. Instead, it's "Parisian."

Some British cities use more highfalutin' demonyms:

• Cambridge, England, people are Cantabrigians.

• Dumfries, Scotland, people are Doonhamers.

• Liverpool, England, people are Liverpudlians.

• Glasgow, Scotland, people are Glaswegians.

• Manchester, England, people are Mancunians.

Onomastics was not Stewart's only interest. He was an English professor at the University of California at Berkeley who wrote books on geography, ecology, history and science fiction. His most famous work was a post-apocalyptic book, Earth Abides. (I'm dubious about any connection to the Dude in The Big Lebowski.)

In Stewart's 1941 book Storm, a meteorologist character names the storms he tracks. After this, the National Weather Service started giving women's names to storms. (Men's names weren't used until the late 1970s.)


A while back, a New Jersey town wanted to find a fitting Latin motto for its new library. The town leaders settled on "We confirm all things twice." They ordered a stone medallion with the Latin inscription "Nos Secundus Coniecto Omnia."

Some Moorestown residents cunningly checked the motto on Google, which said it translates to "We second guess all." "Coniecto," it turns out, can mean both "check" and "guess." But Google's literal translation turned out to be wrong, also.

The inscribed Latin words didn't follow grammar rules, so the phrase is meaningless.

Town leaders decided on a do-over. About a year later, a fifth-grader stepped up with the phrase "Scientia Incipit Hic," which means, "Knowledge Begins Here."


An oxymoron is a phrase or sentence that uses words that normally wouldn't seem to go together.

The word comes from Greek roots that mean "pointedly foolish."

Some examples of oxymorons:

Damaged goods

Deafening silence

Liquid gas

Sad clown

Front end

Unbiased opinion

Detailed summary

Paid volunteer

Pretty ugly

Awfully sweet

Dry martini

Working vacation

Sources: Daily Writing Tips, World Wide Words, 1001 Questions Answered About the Weather by Frank H. Forrester, ThoughtCo., Oxford Dictionaries, Word Working,, The Moorestown Sun, CBS Philly, Daily Mail,, Charlottesville Daily Progress, A Barrel Full of Words

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