Terms of reference can make the difference between a pleasant impression or a mangled mouthful. When it pertains to a place, and the people within it, it is loaded with personal meaning and community pride.
For 2013, as an offer to the residents of Prince George, nonscientific research and street-testing was done by The Citizen throughout 2012 to arrive at such a name for our city. More than 100 local residents were asked to provide suggestions and feedback on what the city's moniker should be, a shortlist emerged, and the result that prevailed: Prigonian. It contracts Prince and George into a single word, with a transitional suffix to end it smoothly.
The term for a region's collective residents is a "demonym" or a "gentilic" and if you search the canon of literature on these subjects you will find no official reference to Prince George, British Columbia. We were a people without a name, save the default suffix stamped at the end of any region lacking a demonym. Famous cases of this are New York (New Yorker), Alaska (Alaskan), Wisconsin (Wisconsinite), Britain (British) and Toronto (Torontonian).
Prince George follows the latter cliche. We are casually called Prince Georgians.
Other places are more deliberate in their self-references. People from Finland or Greece or Wales do not simply stick an "er" or "ite" or "an/ian" or "ish" on the end of their place name. They are Finns, Greeks and Welsh.
Sometimes, referencing the historic record, people embrace the typical suffix if it has a certain ring to it. Those from Alberta accept Albertan as their gentilic. Those from Victoria gravitate naturally to the term Victorian. Those from Winnipeg readily call themselves Winnipegers. Russians seem happy with Russian, Egyptians happy with Egyptian, and for that matter Canadians with Canadian.
These are not to be confused with nicknames, however. People from Saskatchewan are sometimes called Stubblejumpers, people from Ohio sometimes known as Buckeyes and those from our most easterly province called Newfies, but these are colloquial references.
Some places have been creative and personal in their self-references. Someone from Holland is Dutch, someone from Liverpool is a Liverpudlian, someone from Halifax is a Haligonian, those from Switzerland are Swiss, residents of Indiana are Hoosiers, someone from Smithers is a Smithereen.
However, the default gentilics often leave a clunky impression. According to the federal government's internet portal on demonyms, "Did you know that a person living in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, is a Moose Javian? Or that someone from Truro, Nova Scotia, is a Truronian?" Meanwhile, Red Deer residents are so far stuck with Red Deerians, those from Powell River are left with Powell Riverites, and those in B.C.'s northern capital have to chew on Prince Georgian.
It doesn't have to be this way, said the man who invented the term. The word demonym was coined by former Merriam-Webster editorial staff member Paul Dickson in his 1997 book Labels For Locals. Dickson said the term Prigonian was well within the bounds of regional references.
"The crucible test is to see if it sticks," he said. "Being one who buys ink by the barrel helps but it would help if it got attached to some local speciality - a Prigonian Pizza, say."
George H. Scheetz wrote the book Names Names: A Descriptive and Prescriptive Onymicon, another seminal work in the creation of regional terms. He said that while living in Champaign, Illinois he noticed that - like Prince George - there was no consensus term for the gentry of the place. He went looking in local newspapers and discovered that newspaper references in the early 20th century called local residents Champaignites but the term just didn't catch on like it has to for popular culture to accept it.
"That said, I rather like the sound of Prigonian, and I believe that newspapers are the penultimate source of demonyms, particularly uncommon ones such as Champaignite or uncommonly creative ones," Scheetz said. "In the spirit of fun you espouse, I heartily endorse [and] support your invention and promulgation of Prigonians as an upbeat alternative to the more traditional - but clearly not commonly used - Prince Georgians. If you use Prigonians regularly in newspaper articles, and especially headlines (Prigonians Rally for Better Libraries), I predict your new demonym will enter the local vernacular and become of source of civic pride."
Forcing terminology can cause backlash, however. It wasn't long ago that attempts were made by the provincial government to blanket the bulk of British Columbia with the phrase "heartland" to distinguish it from the Vancouver-Victoria urban axis, but the public soundly rejected this as being too American and too arbitrary. Since then, writers and commentators are still without a definitive word for those living in the rural land mass of the province.
In the essence of community collaboration, The Citizen invites comment on the term Prigonian. It stands merely as the introductory offering. Direct any feedback to lett...@pgcitizen.ca, under the "opinion" heading on the paper's website, or mail a letter to our office (150 Brunswick Street).
Should a demonym more befitting our city be suggested, it will be presented publicly. Should the conversation lean acceptance towards Prigonian, efforts will be made to use it accordingly.