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Demonyms that Define Us

Updated: Aug 19, 2021

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We are well familiar with the demonyms we use for Texans living in metro areas: Austinites, Dallasites and Houstonians. Yet, residents of the Rio Grande Valley cities generally do not use these suffixes. We tend to use “Mission residents” or “citizens of San Benito.”

But before constructing demonyms for Valleyites, let’s survey these names by languages and types.

A pile of square tiles with letters

Cities by Language

The Valley has about 40 municipalities from Alamo to Weslaco, alphabetically. Most are either derived from Spanish or English. Pharr could be considered English, but really is more old school Anglo-Saxon. Some like Mercedes and Elsa are interlingual names, which is useful in a bilingual region.

Others are, well, complicated. They use a combination of English and Spanish; not Spanglish, but just a combo. These are Rio Grande City and South Padre Island. Port Isabel could fall into this category, but the Isabel here is for “Santa Isabel.” However, Isabel also is an interlingual name, so Port Isabel could be simply English. Roma could be either Spanish or Italiano.

Then there are Edcouch and Weslaco. Edcouch is an Middle English compound proper name (Ed Couch), but Weslaco isn’t even a real word, but rather a type of acronym.

Cities by Places & Names & Acronyms Oh My

Now the types of names (-nyms) for our cities. Almost half of Valley cities are toponyms. Their monikers are derived from, or describe, a place. These are La Villa, Rancho Viejo, Rio Hondo and Rio Grande City. Some toponyms are places near flora such as Escobares (broomcorn fields), Los Fresnos (ash trees) and Palmview. Palmhurst (sandbank of a river) and Palm Valley are partially flora and geographic. Valley cities named after other cities are Edinburg (Scotland) and probably Harlingen (The Netherlands).

Map of Rio Grande Valley counties and cities
The Rio Grande Valley of Texas

La Feria, Mercedes and Progreso are disputed, unknown or maybe just misunderstood. Ostensibly, Santa Rosa is toponym for the Santa Rosa Ranch, but could be considered an eponym (St. Rose).

Eponyms for Valley cities are derived from proper names such as wives, daughters or developers. These include the patronyms of Edcouch, (John) McAllen, (Edward) Raymondville and (Ed) Sullivan City. Matronyms are Donna (Fletcher) and Elsa (George). Of course, we have the hybrids of Port Isabel and South Padre (Balli) Island which are both toponymic and eponymic. Great. Finally, Weslaco (W.E. Stuart Land Co), is a hybrid syllable acronym for an eponym. Weird.

Facing our Demonyms

So how do we develop demonyms for our cities, though a litany of grammar rules? Actually, Biff, there are no rules! Pandemonium (this is the root of pandemic, but that is another story)!

Americans, Texans and San Antonians have adopted their demonyms not through rigid phonetic or morphologic rules, but rather usage and custom. If enough people think a name fits, they wear it.

So too can Valleyites don their own demonym to see if it fits. Residents of Alamo can call themselves Alamonians, Alamotians or Alamoish. The last two respectively sound like Imodium or the Amish – try again. Citizens of Roma could refer to themselves as Romans or Romanos. Again, no rules, so anything works.

A few suggestions, however, to assure proper order and good taste.

First, the suffix should be consistent with the language. If the name is English, use an English suffix; Spanish, Spanish. People of La Grulla could be Grusero. Humm… doesn’t sound right (see Suggestion 3). It works for Los Fresnosero, yes. Go figure. To be a purist, demonyms in Spanish are called gentilicios.

Second, economy matters. If you can say it with less letters, do so. Palmviewer is better than Palmviewite or Palmviewonian. Donnan is succinct and has a good, Southern ring (see Suggestion 3). Now, residents of Sullivan could simply be Sullivans. Perfect.

Third, it must resonate. A good name just doesn’t talk, it sings! A popular suffix is -ican, as in Amer-ican; it channels "I can." Another is -o. It’s visceral, as in bravo and Ranchero for Rancho Viejo residents. The alternative, Viejos, meh.

Most would want to avoid… -oid. It cues mongoloid or Altoid. Not good. Ramondvillian sound Machiavellian. Avoid. So too Reynasquache. No, sounds like a pejorative. Residents of Endinburg should avoid -er ... for obvious reasons.

"Hello Beautiful" written on large mirror with white frame

As the Rio Grande Valley comes of age, developing its transportation infrastructure, health and educational facilities and entertainment venues, its rich languages must match the sophistication of its sister metro regions. Let’s try on a name or two. See how it fits, take a critical look at ourselves in the mirror, until we find one that is perfecto for each of our cities.

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