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11 of Canada’s Weirdest Demonyms

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

A demonym—the word for a resident of a particular place—can tell you a story. Sometimes it's the story of an historic event, and sometimes it's a sign of what the locals find important. Sometimes it's even a clue that can help you detect linguistic ghosts, such as in the case of Shropshire, England, whose residents are called Salopians, a relic from the days before 1980 when the area was the County of Salop, in one form or another a name dating back to the Normans.

As in the U.S., most of Canada’s demonyms sport the usual -ian, -er, or -ite suffixes, but in such a huge country, there are a few surprises to be found—some official ones, and some just colloquial. Here’s a guide to some of the more unusual names for residents across the Great White North.

1. BLUENOSE

The famous racing ship Bluenose brought its home province of Nova Scotia great pride in the 1920s and 1930s and quickly became a symbol of Canada, so much that its image appears on the Canadian dime today. This nickname is commonly used as an alternative to “Nova Scotian,” and it’s sometimes written that the moniker hails from the revered ship. But actually, the reverse is true—the nickname came before the ship. It actually dates back to at least the 18th century, when Reverend Jacob Bailey, an Annapolis Loyalist, wrote derisively about Nova Scotians on at least two occasions, once calling them “blue noses, to use a vulgar appellation.” Guess they had to get the name for the ship from somewhere.

2. HERRING-CHOKER

A Herring-choker can be a resident of any of the three Maritime Provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, but especially New Brunswick. The name refers to Scandinavian settlers who fished for herring and used them as a staple in their diets; the choking bit has to do with removing the fish from the net by their gills, or alternatively simply eating vast quantities of herring. (Herring-choker has also been used as a nickname for folks hailing from County Galway, Ireland.)

3. COASTIE

Although Canada has several coasts, it’s only the people who live on the west one who bear this nickname, specifically ones in Vancouver or the Lower Mainland region that surrounds it, and especially the fashionable city-slicker types.

4. HALIGONIAN

Nova Scotia’s capital city, Halifax, was named after the 2nd Earl of Halifax in 1749, and not the English city of the same name, as one might assume. That said, the Canadian and English cities do share a demonym, Haligonian, and some sources claim that the origin of the unusual term is related to the same reason we call people from Manchester Mancunian: a fashion in the 1900s for deriving demonyms from the Latin translations of English cities’ names. (Some people attribute this practice to the ancient Roman presence in Britain, but they skipped town in 410 A.D., long before this trend became fashionable—and before many of these cities even existed.)

However, in the case of Halifax’s demonym, the Latin involves a misunderstood etymology. Haligonian is based on the term halig faex, meaning “holy hair,” so the 16th-century creators of the term took halig, slapped a Latin suffix on it, and called it a day. It’s now believed that the name Halifax instead comes from halh (“secluded spot) and feax (“rough grass”). That means Haligonian was just a big mistake—one that managed to travel all the way to North America.

5. SOURDOUGH

A Sourdough is a resident of Yukon Territory, but not just any Yukoner: This term is reserved specifically for an old-timer. The nickname dates back to the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 19th century and alludes to the prospectors and pioneers and their reliance upon sourdough bread. The term was popularized by Robert Service’s book of 1907 Yukon-themed poetry, Songs of a Sourdough. A tongue-in-cheek explanation from the 1960s describes a sourdough as a person who is “sour on the country but doesn’t have enough dough to leave.” Conversely, the opposite of a Sourdough is a CheechakoChinook jargon for “newcomer”—which Service used in yet another book title, Ballads of a Cheechako. (Both words are used across the territory’s western border, in Alaska, as well.) It’s said that one transcends one’s Cheechako status by witnessing both the freezing of the rivers and their subsequent thawing in the spring—twice.

6. TRIFLUVIEN

The residents of Trois-Rivières (a.k.a. “Three Rivers”), Quebec are elegantly called Trifluviens, which is Latin, a somewhat unusual language for that part of the world. (But they do add a bit of French flair on at the end when talking about a female inhabitant, who’s called a Trifluvienne.) No explanation for this linguistic mishmash has apparently been offered, but when you consider some of the possible French demonyms they could have cooked up—Trois-Rivièrain? Trois-Rivièrasque?—it seems like they may have made the right call.

7. SOOITE/SAULTITE

A Sooite (more formally spelled Saultite) is from Sault Ste. Marie, and the word applies to the people who live in both the portion of the city on the Michigan side of the Saint Marys River as well as the Ontario side. The name comes from the French pronunciation of the name: “Soo Sainte” (with a breathy, barely-there t) “Marie.” In colonial Middle French, which was the language that was spoken when the region was settled in the 17th century, the now-archaic word sault was used to refer to rapids, which were found in the local river. (Although the word literally meant leap; you might also recognize it from the English word somersault.) Today, the same word survives in modern French as saut, retaining the meaning “to jump,” as rapids or waterfalls might, but you can still spot its ancestor sault in plenty of place names throughout Eastern Canada.

8. SPUD ISLANDER

A Spud Islander is another name for a person who lives on Prince Edward Island, which is not-coincidentally the home of the Canadian Potato Museum, seeing as PEI is Canada’s most prodigiously potato-producing province (despite it being the country’s smallest province by land). PEI’s culture is so saturated in spuds that it’s often called “the Idaho of Canada.” Or, depending on how you want to look at it, is Idaho actually the Prince Edward Island of the United States? PEI has definitely had its current name longer than Idaho’s been called Idaho, by about 60 years, but the jury’s out on who’s been growing taters the longest.

9. STAMPEDER

The nickname for a resident of Calgary, Alberta is a Stampeder, in a nod to the city’s yearly rodeo and western fest, the Calgary Stampede. Mind you, the official demonym is Calgarianbut the folks who live there don’t seem to be too fond of the word, and seemingly prefer even Cowtowner (per Cowtown, another rodeo-referencing nickname for the city) to the term that’s on the books. Calgary, Alberta was christened after Calgary Bay and its corresponding hamlet on the Isle of Mull in Scotland—and not the flyspeck of a town in Texas—and all three cities share a demonym. Well, officially, anyhow.

10. BYTOWNER

Starting a little over a year after its founding in 1826 and lasting until it was became the city of Ottawa in 1855, Canada’s capital city was known as Bytown, named for British canal-building engineer Lieutenant-Colonel John By. This was reportedly a dinner party joke when it started, but the name stuck—and still endures. Ottawans still call each other Bytowners, and the city is home to the Bytown Museum and the ByTowne Cinema.

11. NDG-ER

To be fair, Notre-Dame-de-Grâce is a neighborhood of Montreal, not its own separate city, but that didn’t happen until 1910, when the town got absorbed by the metropolis. And its status as a neighborhood didn’t stop people from needing a word to refer to people who live there. One can imagine, though, that they had their work cut out for them, trying to construct a snappy adjective from a city that has four words in its name. Eventually, some very practical person came up with the obvious solution—that less is more—and today, the district’s residents are tidily called NDG-ers. (Some locals have proudly claimed that the NDG stands for “no damn good,” while other residents say it’s short for “Notre-Dump-de-Garbage,” but it should be said that both of these seem to be styled affectionately.)

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A Brief History of Poutine
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Walk down a street after a hard night of drinking in Montréal and you’d be hard-pressed not seeing someone gorging themselves on poutine, a high-calorie classic staple of Québécois casse-croûtes—or “greasy spoon”—cuisine.

Just what is poutine, you ask? The delicious Canadian dish is comprised of a holy-hoser trinity of ingredients: French fries, cheese curds, and gravy. Try some yourself and you’ll be hooked. It’s become so popular that it’s readily available at certain restaurants in the U.S. (Lucky New Yorkers can get their hands on some traditional poutine at Brooklyn restaurant Mile End.) Otherwise, the dish has become so ubiquitous in its home province that even McDonald’s and Burger King sell it as a side.

Much like the debate in the U.S. about the origins of the hamburger, poutine has similarly unclear beginnings. The most widespread claim for inventing poutine comes from the small dairy-farming town of Warwick, Québec, where, in 1957, a customer asked restaurateur Fernand Lachance to throw cheese curds and French fries—items the owner sold separately at his restaurant L’Idéal (later renamed Le lutin qui rit, or “The Laughing Elf”)—together in one bag because the customer was in a rush. Legend has it when Lachance peered into the bag after the two ingredients were mixed together, he remarked, “This is a ‘poutine,’” using the joual—or Québécois slang—for a "mess.”

Noticeably absent from Lachance’s cobbled-together recipe is the gravy ingredient, which was added to the mix in 1964 when a restaurant-owner in nearby Drummondville, Quebec named Jean-Paul Roy noticed a few of his diners ordering a side of cheese curds to add to the patented gravy sauce and fries dish at his restaurant, Le Roy Jucep. Roy soon added the three-ingredient item on his menu and the rest is delicious, gravy-soaked history.

Eventually, poutine spread across the province and throughout Canada—with different combinations added to the fries, curds, and gravy recipe—but the original remains the most recognized and honored. It even initially made its way to the United States by way of New Jersey, where an altered recipe known as “Disco Fries” substitutes shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese for the Canadian curds.

But if you ever find yourself in Montréal and have a hankering for greasy food, be sure to order it correctly. Anglophones usually pronounce the word as “poo-teen,” but if you want to pass for a real Québécois, it’s pronounced “poo-tin.”  

This story originally ran in 2013.

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15 Colorful Canadian Slang Terms
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Americans looking to take a trip across their country's northern border might find themselves bewildered by some Canadian turns of phrase. It is, after all, a place where people go out for a rip to the beer store and plunk down their loonies to pick up a two-four. Pretty confusing, eh? But fear not. For all you keeners who want to learn how to speak like a Canuck, here’s a handy chart to help you master Canadian slang, courtesy of Expedia.ca.

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