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9 Feb 2010

The naming of inhabitants

The other day I half noticed the word 'canisiais' in the headline to a small article in the Ouest France paper, and had no idea what it meant. Reading the piece showed me that it referred to a person from Canisy, a small village near Saint Lo. The French have names for the inhabitants of just about every town and village, but I have not been able to discover any logic in how they come about.

In Britain, we tend to talk about a Worcester woman, or a man from Southampton, or a person from Porlock. I can only think of Londoners as a similar form. Glaswegian, Liverpudlian and Mancunian are surely not really used by the inhabitants as routine. There are a couple of usages derived from Roman names, such as Exonian for Exeter, or Salopian for Shropshire, but they are not much used. Stratfordian and Oxfordian are not related to the inhabitants, but to those who believe the works of Shakespeare were written by the chap from Stratford, who signed his name most commonly as 'Shagspeer'  - if six examples can be called common - or who believe they were written by the then Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere. 

Most of the French terms seem to be of two types. The most frequent is to add -ais to the end of the name, such as Granvillais, Caennais and so on, and the second to add -ois, as in Niçois or Virois. Then there is Parisien, but it then gets very, very confusing. Here are a few examples: Vannes: Vannetais; Avranches: Avranchinais, Saint Lo: Saint Lois.

It can get very strange: the inhabitants of Manvieu-le-Bocage are apparently les Mévéens, the people in Manche les Manchots (though this is being replaced by Manchois). The people from Villedieu-les-Poêles -God's Town of the Saucepans - are called most often les sourdins, the deaf ones, from the centuries of hammering copper, but also les Théopolitains - theos from the Greek for god, politi for town. Those from Lisieux are les Lexoviennes from the Roman name of the town.

My favourite is that for Pont l'Evéque - Bridge of the Bishop, where the splendid cheese is made. There is a Bishopsbridge Road in London, near Paddington Station, but it is utterly anonymous. The people of Pont l'Evéque are known as les Pontepiscopiens or, sometimes, les Episcopontains! That is just strange, but it does imply some knowledge of Latin.

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