By Lynn Ashby 1 May 2017
A Houstonian, a Dallasite and a Beaumonter walk into a bar and…wait. Why do these people, all from the same state, have different titles? Is there an official Texas State Title Shop that issues us our citizenship names? If you are from Fort Worth you are a Fort Worthian. A resident of Waco is probably a Wako. From Galveston? No, you are not a Gal-ves-TEN-ian, but a Gal-ves-TONE-ian. A resident of Ranger could be a Rangerer. Austinite sounds like linoleum or a chemical element. We can only wonder what folks from other Texas towns such as Hutto, Old Dime Box and Cut and Shoot call themselves. If you are someone from Nacogdoches, you are called “someone from Nacogdoches.”
What about residents from foreign places? Someone from the City of Lights is a Parisian, which sounds pretty, a lover of the arts, and is better than Parisite. But if you hail (or heil) from Berlin, you are a Berliner, a tough-sounding name causing feelings of iron and stone, and not in a good way. The Beatles were from Liverpool. That did not make them a Liverspot but a Liverpudlian. Not far away is the Isle of Man. Its residents are not Manmen but Manxmen. No one knows why.
A resident of Rio de Janeiro must have a problem. “Hi, I’m a Rio de Janeiroite.” No, they make it very simple: “Hi, I’m from Rio Janeiro. I’m a Carioca. Not a Cariocan.” A brief lesson to remember the next time you are mugged by the girl from Ipanema. When the Portuguese settled in and around Rio they built houses that the native Tupi Indians called karai oca which meant “white house.” Soon the Portuguese began referring to themselves as Cariocas. This name has lasted hundreds of years and still refers to the local people. None of which explains why citizens of Monaco refer to themselves, not as Monocans, Mononucleosians or Monaco-conspirators, but Monegasques. A white South African of Dutch decent may prefer to be called an Afrikaner. He is also a Boer, but has heard too many stupid jokes by visiting Americans. “A wild boar or just a bore?” It is OK to call someone an Englishman, a Frenchman or a Germanman, but calling someone a Chinaman is considered not PC. Why are people from the Philippine Islands called Filipinos instead of Philippinos? No Ph and just one p. I blame the media. “Hi, I’m from Burkina Faso, formerly French Upper Volta. Don’t call me Burk or Faso, but Burkinabè.”
We call ourselves Americans because we are from America, but so are llama shepherds in Peru, Eskimos whale spearing in the Bering Sea and a Carioca sunbathing on a Rio beach. We are simply the 400-pound gorilla in the room, and have taken over the name. By the same token, Holland is just a big part of the Netherlands. We say England when we mean Great Britain which they call the United Kingdom. For decades we interchanged Russia with the Soviet Union. Today we make the same mistake by getting Trump and Putin mixed up.
Some names have changed meanings. For years the title Cajun in Louisiana was pejorative, a distinct poor, uneducated ethnic minority and the butt of jokes. During the early part of the 20th century, the State of Louisiana tried to suppress Cajun culture by forbidding the use of the Cajun French language in schools. Teachers threatened, punished, and sometimes beat their Cajun students in an attempt to force them to use English. During, World War II Cajuns often served as French interpreters for American forces in France; this helped to overcome prejudice. A funny story: while visiting northern France a few years ago, I was told by a French farmer about the Cajun soldiers yelling at civilians that they were Americans who had come to free them, but their French was a few centuries old. It was like, in English: “Hey, nonny, nonny. Prith thee, kind sir, woudst thou etc. ect.” Finally, the other Louisianans realized what a goldmine the Cajun culture was, and today Cajun songs, food, dances and accents are in full bloom, even seeping over the Texas border to Pote Ar-TURE.
Yankee Go Home and Damn Yankees are not love letters, but Yankees like them. Georgia Crackers were once a proud name for early settlers of the colony, then the state. The Atlanta Crackers were the city’s minor league baseball team between 1901 and 1965, when the Atlanta Braves moved from Milwaukee in 1966. But today Cracker generally means a red neck rural, white racist. If you are from Kansas, you are a Kansan, but if you are from Ar-Kansas, or Arkansas, you are not an Arkansanian but an Ar-KAN-san. (Incidentally, they pronounce their state AR-kan-saw, the last “as” becoming “saw.” Texas also ends in as. Should we be from TECK-saw?)
In the early days, residents of this part of what was then Mexico were called Texians, Texasians, Texicans, and Texonians, along with Thieves, Land Grabbers and Illegal Aliens. Eventually Texian won out, and many newspapers here used Texian in their title. Our elder statesmen, having used the term since the revolution in 1836, used Texian well into the 1880s. However, in general usage after annexation, Texan replaced Texian, while “The Texas Almanac” still used the term Texian as late as 1868. And we have Tejano. I’ve always liked that unique title. It connotes the best of both cultures, and means a proud Texan of Mexican ethnicity, although I wonder if, say, those who came here from El Salvador, Guatemala and Peru can call themselves a Tejano. A last French story: A friend of mine, Phillipe, who managed a fancy Parisian hotel, once noted to me: “Lean, people from America zay they are from New York City, Chicago or Los Angeles, but people from Texas just zay they are from Texas.” So the next time you walk into a bar, just zay you’re from Texas.
Ashby is from here at firstname.lastname@example.org