A Demonym for the unted states.

Sometime ago I got into an argument about whether citizens of the united states should be called "Americans" in an exclusive way, denying the fact that there are many orther countries in the same continent and the peoples of those countries, having been born in the same continent, have the right to be called Americans also. During the argument, Alan, a user of this website, asked me, if citizen of the united states are not to be called Americans, what should they be called. I was advocating for the right of citizens of other American countries to be called Americans, but I am not in the business of creating demonyms. He insisted quite a few times, so I agreed to take a few days to look for infomation so I could offer options so as to avoid using the term "American" as if that designated a nationality when it actually refers to a continent, much as if a German said "I am European" and expect everybody else to assume that he is from Germany, not any other country in Europe.

I must make it clear that I am writing this to comply with Alan's request. I have no real intention of persuading anyone to actually start using any of these terms to refer to people from the united states. If any reader feels offended by this, I hope they will excuse me. I believe that humans have as much right to claim a land "their" as ants have to claim a tree theirs just because they live in it. To me names of places and demonyms are a useful reference, pride over being called Chilean, Autralian or Chinese is as meaningless to me as it would be to a Polar bear being called "Polar".

Having said that...

The first problem that I faced when trying to find a name for citizens of the united states of America is that any other united states that has existed in the past was a "United States of" and the name of a given territory that they actually dominated. For example "United States of Colombia" and "United States of Indonesia", both demonyms were easy because both united states dominated the entirety of the Colombian and Indonesian territories respectively. The united states of America does not cover the entirety of America, not even the northern part of the continent which it shares with Mexico and Canada, the latter being the largest country on the continent.

The united states of America is currently the only united states in the world, if we take the example of the United Arab Emirates, its demonym is Emirati (from the word "Emirate"). We could then assume that the word "state" could be used to derive the word "Stati".

Since the united states of America is part of America, the term "united states American" would seem legitimamte. But this would also seem senseless if we start using the terms "Japanese Asian" or "South Korean Asian".

Some domonyms are not linked to the name of the country they represent; a person from the Netherlands is called a Dutch. So, we could think of two different approaches here, 1) use a word that would identify them as a group, or 2) we could use the name of part of their territory. If the former, the History of the united states started when pilgrims travelled from England to the newly discovered continent ("discovered" from the European point of view, since Asians and Viking had long before known about it), a distincitive name would then be "Pilgrims", since it would honour their history and it would properly identify them as a group descending from this people. If we take the latter (the territorial approach) we have to look for the name of a territory that would be exclusively under the control of the united states. Argentina owes its name to "El Río de la Plata" (The Silver River) since "silver" in Latin is "argentus", and though this river runs through a minor part of its territory, this name is used to identify all its inhabitants. I do not know much about the geography of the united states, so I do not have any suggestions here. You can comment on options that may seem proper to you.

Many of the new countries formed in American took their names according what the natives called those territories. So any of the names of those tribes or lands could be used; Cherokee, Shawnee, Choctaw, et cetera.

If we look at Europe continuing its process of unification, it will eventually become one big territory with many countries in it. It is very likely that inhabitants will continue to call themselves according to the countries they come from. It seems very logical to me that the inhabitants of the united states of America would call themselves according to the state they come from, id est, Alabamian, Californian, Marylander and so on.

Aug 6, 2014 5:31 PM
Comments · 95

It's both interesting and frustrating to notice the shortcomings of our language. I'm a native English speaker from the northeastern US, and the word "Americans" bothers me as well. The Americas are two continents with many countries, so why should any one country claim the word "American" as its own? In my mind, it mirrors the mindset many people in the US tend to have - that we are the sole shining beacon of civilization in the world and everyone must look up to us. 


However, there aren't any suitable alternatives for "American," so I usually try to avoid phrasing my statements in a way that necessitates using it. Like others have suggested, I often identify myself by state and tell people that I'm from New York. I don't use the phrase "New Yorker" though. Many people in New York City think this phrase belongs solely to them - they object when people from the state of New York call themselves New Yorkers if they aren't from New York City. What's a girl to do? ;)

August 7, 2014

Mario, I agree with you.  Every inhabitant of the Western Hemisphere is American.  We of the United States, in justice to all other people of the Western Hemisphere, have no exclusive right to use the term 'American' as the demonym for the people of the United States .  United Statian ought to be the demonym for the people of the United States.  I'm going to start calling myself a “United Statian,” because calling myself an “American” seems presumptuous, since everybody else from every other country in our Western Hemisphere is also American... :)

August 8, 2014

People from the US think that they are the America or sometimes they say, "We Are the World" :)

The name "USA" is logical in the sense that the only states in the American continent that are united are the United States (of America).

August 8, 2014

Bruce, I forgot to answer to that... I never said that using the term "American" would imply that the united states was claiming complete domination over America. My point is that "since the united states DOES NOT dominate th entirety of the continent it is not proper to use a demonym that would give that idea". If you believe that my argument is only a tempest in a teapot, you are entitled to your opinion.

August 8, 2014

Mario.  I read what you wrote.  This debate is based on political correctness in my opinión.  The name is being overanalyzed for the sake of having an "intellectual" conversation.  The denomonym American doesn't imply that the people of the United States claim dominance over the Americas.  It is just a shortened way of saying the name.  Let me ask you, how do you feel about the term Latino being used to describe people living in Latin America?  Because the term "Latino" is misused.  Italians, Spaniards, French, Portuguese and Romanians are Latinos.  Latin Americans of certain European heritage are Latinos.  But according to modern usage a person of indigenous, african or even Anglo decent born in Latin America is "Latino".  This usage is a shortened term which stems from Latin American just as American is a shortened term which stems from United States of America.  Why is that acceptable?

August 8, 2014
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