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Wordsleuth (2005, vol. 2, 1): Would a Camrosian by any other name smell as sweet?

Heather Fitzgerald
(Language Update, Volume 2, Number 1, 2005, page 32)

Imagine you are writing an article or story about the town of Ajax, Ontario (it could happen), and you suddenly realize that you have no idea what to call someone who lives there—an Ajaxite? an Ajaxer? an Ajaxian? In the past, there would have been no way to discover the answer, save by phoning your aunt who lives there. But when you look up Ajax in the second edition of The Canadian Oxford Dictionary, released in June 2004, you will find that the word Ajacian (pronounced a-JAY-sian) is in fact the preferred term.

Canadian place name derivatives have always been a feature of The Canadian Oxford Dictionary. The first edition included Torontonian, Vancouverite, Winnipegger and the slightly unexpected Haligonian. These terms would surface, with some frequency, in our extensive reading of Canadian newspapers and magazines. But how often do the cities of Melfort, Flin Flon, Prince Rupert, Corner Brook or Medicine Hat appear in national publications? And if they do, how often are they accompanied by the term used to describe residents of those communities? Not very often is the answer to both questions.

So we decided to go straight to the source—namely, to the people who write, edit, broadcast or make the news in those communities. Over a two-week period, we e-mailed over 600 newspapers, radio stations and municipal councils looking for the answer to the question: "What do you call people who live in your town or city?"

For some communities, the answer was easy. The name for residents rolled readily off the tongue for the Chemainiacs from Chemainus, BC, and the Smithereens from Smithers, BC. The Crowsnesters from Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, were similarly happy to stand up and be counted. Other communities took a little more time to uncover the word (or words) that best describes those who live there. Several media outlets in towns across the country ran contests or conducted surveys to ask residents themselves which term they use or prefer. From these the dictionary gained Leamingtonian for residents of Leamington, Ontario, and Digbyite for residents of Digby, Nova Scotia.

Several places were as quick to let us know, with apologies, that no such terms exist to describe their residents. For a few, this response generated a full-blown identity crisis. The folks in Rocky Mountain House read these lines in the editorial of their local paper soon after our query was sent out: "There have been attempts in the past to create a nickname [for residents of our town], like the fellow who once tried to call folks of the area Housers, in a thinly veiled reference to the Canadian hosers of Doug and Bob McKenzie. It didn’t stick. . . . As a whole, I don’t think we’ve come to identify with the place we live in as strongly as some in other parts of the country. In my lifetime in this community, the population has doubled, and that hasn’t happened by local births. People migrate in, and they maintain their identity of origin, whether they are Newfoundlanders or prairie farmers from Saskatchewan." [The Mountaineer, Dec. 2, 2003]

A similar kind of identity crisis emerged as a result of recent municipal amalgamations. Residents of the town of Trenton, for example, are fiercely proud of being Trentonians. The problem is that the town of Trenton no longer officially exists as it is now part of the new city of Quinte West. As yet, the leap from being a Trentonian to a Quinte Wester (or Quinte Westian) seems too large for most to make, so while we included Trentonian in the new edition of the dictionary, we don’t yet have a word to describe someone who lives in Quinte West.

For one city in southwestern Ontario, our query galvanized a community into action. Several weeks after we sent our original request for information, we received a phone call from the St. Catharines Standard. The editors at the paper were surprised (and somewhat embarrassed) that there was no term for residents of their thriving community. But rather than make apologies, they decided to make news, publishing a series of articles and contests over the next few weeks that invited residents to suggest, and subsequently vote on, potential new names. Suggestions ranged from fun terms like Kitten and St. Kittster (inspired by the town’s nickname of St. Kitts) to more tried-and-true formulations like St. Cathariner. When the votes were tallied, the practical St. Cathariner won out, and the St. Catharines Standard promised to begin using the new term to help it become established in the lexicon. The lexicographers at The Canadian Oxford Dictionary will be watching what happens with interest, to decide whether St. Cathariner might merit inclusion in the third edition of the dictionary.

As a result of this exercise, more than 150 place name derivatives appear in the second edition of The Canadian Oxford Dictionary, which means that Canadians, from Abbotsford to Yorkton (alphabetically speaking), have now found their rightful place in the dictionary.