Green Path often needs to refer to residents of Townsville but I have always been ambivalent about both of the obvious terms, Townsvilleans or Townsvillians. The former preserves the silent “e” and is perfectly readable but the -eans ending looks vaguely wrong, while the latter is just that little bit harder to read, especially in a sans-serif font like Arial, because of the -illi- combination.
A little bit of not-too-serious research was in order, so I asked on facebook (my personal page, not the blog’s page). Names have been suppressed to protect my informants’ privacy.
People in Italy are Italians, people in Chile are Chileans, but in both cases the final vowel is sounded so they are not exact parallels. On the other hand, people of the Seychelles are Seychellois and Townsvillois is attractively exotic. Sadly, 99% of the Townsvillois who see the word will automatically rhyme it with boys, ruining it completely for the minority.
Townsvillano might come naturally to a Spanish or Italian speaker, who would use Townsvillani as the plural. That’s fine, but as an English word the plural is problematic. We already have enough difficulties with mangos/mangoes, so why add to them?
Purely for completeness and the odd chuckle…
I don’t think they all live in Townsville.
Do I detect a Cairnsian (is that a word?) sneer there?
for a touch of class.
to remind us not to let things get too heavy.
Townies came from a Magnetic Islander and I’m sure it’s used constantly within his community, but it is not specific enough for anyone outside it.
Townsvillagers was commended by a learned friend as being “probably the choice with the closest connections to its contracted root, ‘villa rustica’ = farm, village,” and deserves an honourable mention.
I was looking for a neutral or positive term but Townsvillains was suggested many times – often lightly, e.g., “the naughty ones, anyway,” but sometimes more fervently: “Having considered the values and beliefs expressed by our neighbours and our elected local representatives, I have been using the term in all seriousness for some time now.”
Townsvilleins was suggested by one respondent, who said, “The word has a mediaeval origin but is, sadly, ever more relevant.” True, and true.
Green Path doesn’t want to adopt anything derogatory, however, so let’s move on.
Onomastics and Demonyms
A Perthian (is that a word?) participant put me on to Onomastics, the study of the origin, history, and use of proper names, a discipline I hadn’t heard of. As this description of it says, it is a part of Linguistics and in turn has subdivisions including place-names (toponyms). The subdivision we want, as my Singaporean (yes, -ean is correct) team member pointed out, is demonyms, the names used for the people who live in a particular country or other locality.
Armed with that knowledge, I found an online Denonym Generator (a search on that phrase finds several; my link just goes to the first I found, which works well enough). Unfortunately, its usefulness was limited to confirming that we had already proposed all that were worth considering – with one exception: Townsvillan. It looks all right, but it will be heard as Townsvillain, which we have already rejected.
So we’re back to –illian and –illean.
A retired local journalist, who obviously needed it more than most people, “always used Townsvilleans but with no solid reason” but a clear majority of my friends preferred the -illian ending. A reason can be found.
- Common suffixes for demonyns, according to Wikipedia, include -an and -ian, and a silent “e” is usually dropped when adding either of them to a place name (e.g. Rome –> Roman).
- We rejected -illan because it sounds villainous but there’s a better reason: in conversation, everyone puts in one more syllable. The word rhymes with Jillian, and the spelling should respect that.
- Dropping the silent “e” and adding -ian gives us Townsvillian and explains why Townsvillean looked slightly wrong, i.e., we used the wrong suffix and compensated by not dropping the “e” as we should have done.
We have a winner!
The judge’s decision is final but non-binding.
P.S. …but he still doesn’t like illi.