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Footnotes in Texas History

Vegan Panhandlers

And other demonyms across Texas bend and break the rules of language

Illustration by Shaw Nielsen

Lately I’ve been on a deep dive into “demonymology.” Sounds ominous, but it’s simply the study of what people from certain places call themselves. There are general rules for demonyms, but there’s nothing that can’t be broken for phonetic aesthetics or preference—or even whimsy.

For instance, adding “-ites” to a place name is a biblical tradition for identifying the people there: Canaanites, Levites, etc. So folks in Dallas are Dallasites, people in Dumas are Dumasites and residents of Paris, Texas, would be known as Parisites—except they’ve adopted the French custom and call themselves Parisians.

We have many unusual, rather unpredictable demonyms in Texas. Ivanhoe could be Ivanhoers, but if you say it too fast it sounds indelicate. So Ivanhoans is preferred. Carthage? Carthaginians. Leander? Leanderthals. That one is the result of an important archaeological find near there.

What do you call people in Cactus? Cacti? Could be Cactusians, but that sounds like a cough. What about Cut and Shoot? They are Cut and Shooters. Rough crowd. Commerce is also a challenge. Are they Commercials? Commercians? No, probably Commercites. The demonym for Waco isn’t Wackos but Wacoans.

Comfort is interesting. Are they Comforters? Actually, yes. Dime Box has Dime Boxers. Alice has a truly sophisticated demonym. They’re Alicians. Corpus Christi is made up of Corpus Christians. No holier demonym than that, I’d suppose.

For places ending in “-o,” just add “-an.” Laredoans, San Angeloans, El Pasoans. Amarillo? Depends on whether you say Amarillo or Amarilla; George Strait sings Amarillo by Morning. So I go with him. The demonym, therefore, is Amarilloans.

San Antonio cannot follow this rule. “San Antonioans” is phonetically awkward. So we throw out the rule and just go with what sounds better: San Antonians.

If you have an “-on” ending, then by custom, add “-ian” to create the demonym. Houston becomes Houstonian. Sinton becomes Sintonian. Denton is Dentonian.

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People in Austin seem to prefer Austinites. Austonian, though, cannot be the demonym. It’s the adjective for style. You can say, “I love the Austonian vibe,” for instance.

For places ending in “-burg,” you just add “-er.” Fredericksburgers, Rosenburgers. Seems like we should have a town named Whataburg. Those residents would then be Whataburgers. I might move there just to be one.

Folks in Marfa are Marfans, but if they were Marfalites, it would be good marketing.

People in Paradise are Paradisians. Vega, in the Panhandle, has Vegans. Happy has Happians. Wink has Winkers. And Victoria has Victorians.

No matter what we are by demonym, we’re all collectively Texans. And that, to me, is about the best thing in the world a person can be.