Ethnonym

Ethnonym

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Encyclopedia
An ethnonym is the name
Name
A name is a word or term used for identification. Names can identify a class or category of things, or a single thing, either uniquely, or within a given context. A personal name identifies a specific unique and identifiable individual person, and may or may not include a middle name...

 applied to a given ethnic group
Ethnic group
An ethnic group is a group of people whose members identify with each other, through a common heritage, often consisting of a common language, a common culture and/or an ideology that stresses common ancestry or endogamy...

. Ethnonyms can be divided into two categories: exonyms (where the name of the ethnic group has been created by another group of people) and autonyms or endonyms (self-designation; where the name is created and used by the ethnic group itself).

As an example, the ethnonym for the ethnically dominant group in Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 is the Germans. This ethnonym is an exonym used by the English-speaking world, although the term itself is derived from Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

. Conversely, Germans themselves use the autonym of die Deutschen. Germans are indicated by exonyms in many European languages, such as Italian (tedeschi), French (Allemands), Spanish (Alemanes) and Polish (Niemcy).

Variations


Numerous ethnonyms can apply to the same ethnic or racial group, with various levels of recognition, acceptance and use. The State Library of South Australia contemplated this issue when considering Library of Congress
Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is the research library of the United States Congress, de facto national library of the United States, and the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. Located in three buildings in Washington, D.C., it is the largest library in the world by shelf space and...

 Headings for literature pertaining to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
Indigenous Australians
Indigenous Australians are the original inhabitants of the Australian continent and nearby islands. The Aboriginal Indigenous Australians migrated from the Indian continent around 75,000 to 100,000 years ago....

. Some 20 different ethnonyms were considered as potential Library of Congress headings, but it was recommended that only a fraction of them be employed for the purposes of cataloguing.

Change over time


Ethnonyms can change in character over time; while originally socially acceptable, they may come to be considered offensive. For instance, the term Gypsy has been used to refer to the Roma. Other examples include Vandal
Vandals
The Vandals were an East Germanic tribe that entered the late Roman Empire during the 5th century. The Vandals under king Genseric entered Africa in 429 and by 439 established a kingdom which included the Roman Africa province, besides the islands of Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia and the Balearics....

, Bushman
Bushmen
The indigenous people of Southern Africa, whose territory spans most areas of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia, and Angola, are variously referred to as Bushmen, San, Sho, Barwa, Kung, or Khwe...

, Barbarian
Barbarian
Barbarian and savage are terms used to refer to a person who is perceived to be uncivilized. The word is often used either in a general reference to a member of a nation or ethnos, typically a tribal society as seen by an urban civilization either viewed as inferior, or admired as a noble savage...

, and Philistine.

The ethnonyms applied to African Americans have demonstrated a greater evolution; older terms such as colored carried negative connotations and have been replaced by modern-day equivalents such as black or African-American. Other ethnonyms such as Negro
Negro
The word Negro is used in the English-speaking world to refer to a person of black ancestry or appearance, whether of African descent or not...

have a different status. The term was considered acceptable in its use by activists such as Martin Luther King in the 1960s, but other activists took a different perspective. In discussing an address in 1960 by Elijah Muhammad
Elijah Muhammad
Elijah Muhammad was an African American religious leader, and led the Nation of Islam from 1934 until his death in 1975...

, it was stated "to the Muslims, terms like Negro and colored are labels created by white people to negate the past greatness of the black race".

Four decades later, a similar difference of opinion remains. In 2006, one commentator suggested that the term Negro is outdated or offensive in many quarters, although its use remains in organisations such as the United Negro College Fund
United Negro College Fund
The United Negro College Fund is an American philanthropic organization that fundraises college tuition money for black students and general scholarship funds for 39 private historically black colleges and universities. The UNCF was incorporated on April 25, 1944 by Frederick D. Patterson , Mary...

; similarly, the word "colored" still appears in the name of the NAACP, or National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In this context, an ethnonym has the potential to mimic the phenomenon of the euphemism treadmill.

Linguistics



In English, ethnonyms are generally formulated through suffixation; by applying an -n to people of Austria, their nationality is known as Austrian. In English, in many cases, the word for the dominant language
Natural language
In the philosophy of language, a natural language is any language which arises in an unpremeditated fashion as the result of the innate facility for language possessed by the human intellect. A natural language is typically used for communication, and may be spoken, signed, or written...

 of a group is identical to their English-language ethnonym; the French speak French, the Germans speak German. This is sometimes erroneously overgeneralized; a child may assume that people from India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 speak "Indian", despite there being no language which is called by that name.

See also

  • -onym
    -onym
    The suffix onym, in English and other languages, means "word, name," and words ending in onym refer to a specified kind of name or word, most of which are classical compounds. For example, an acronym is a word formed from the initial letter or letters of each of the successive parts or major parts...

  • Diaspora studies
    Diaspora studies
    Diaspora studies is an academic field established in the late twentieth century to study dispersed ethnic populations, which are often termed diaspora peoples...

  • demonym
    Demonym
    A demonym , also referred to as a gentilic, is a name for a resident of a locality. A demonym is usually – though not always – derived from the name of the locality; thus, the demonym for the people of England is English, and the demonym for the people of Italy is Italian, yet, in english, the one...

  • exonym
    Exonym and endonym
    In ethnolinguistics, an endonym or autonym is a local name for a geographical feature, and an exonym or xenonym is a foreign language name for it...

  • Hyphenated American
    Hyphenated American
    In the United States, the term hyphenated American is an epithet commonly used from 1890 to 1920 to disparage Americans who were of foreign birth or origin, and who displayed an allegiance to a foreign country. It was most commonly used to disparage German Americans or Irish Americans who called...

  • Statistext
    Statistext
    A statistext is a demographic category that is artificially contrived in pursuit of a political or ideological goal, particularly when categories are created that respondents would not otherwise apply to themselves. The term was created by Audrey Kobayashi, a Canadian geographer, in 1992.In the...