While the meanings of monikers such as Ethiopian, Hobokenite, and Earthling aren’t hard to suss out, it’s a little tougher to guess where to find a Moonraker or a Zonie. And why the heck are Oklahomans called “Sooners,” anyway? We’re not sure when Rand McNally and Noah Webster teamed up to create these wild demonyms (that’s the fancy name), but after hearing the origins, we’ll happily applaud their creativity. (Image: BreweryGems)
So, how’d the residents of Wiltshire, England, end up with this fancy nickname? Legend has it that around 1787, some brandy smugglers were on the run from the Five-O, so they dumped their booze in a pond. They narrowly escaped, but were later caught fishing for their brandy. When the cops asked them what they were doing, the creative bootleggers played dumb – pointing to the moon’s reflection and claiming (in all seriousness) they were fishing for cheese. Apparently, the police bought it, and the name “Moonraker” stuck.
Zonie is a derogatory term for the crowds of Arizonans who descend upon San Diego each summer, presumably to escape the ungodly heat in their Zonie homeland. San Diego newspapers feature plenty of references to the “Zonie Factor,” and many residents long for a “Zonie-free” environment. Regularly used in that area, it’s a good term to know. Just don’t get it confused with a Zonian, one who lives in the Panama Canal Zone, or a Bizonian – someone who lived in the post-WWII British/American zone in Germany.
Most people know this term refers to an Oklahoma resident, because of the state’s successful football team. But on the field, actual Sooner-type behavior would result in a false-start penalty. Fact is, a Sooner is a too-early bird. It seems that many settlers entered Oklahoma before the legal time for settlement in April 1889, thereby beating out any law-abiding suckers who followed the rules and moved in on time. Soon after, “Sooner” came to mean both an Oklahoman and anyone who jumps the gun.
Some say “Hoosier” is a modification of “husher” (a synonym for bully), while others insist it was a post-bar fight query – “Whose ear?” – that morphed into Hoosier after many retellings (and many drinks). The truth is, Hoosier’s origin is a legitimate mystery. Its connotation, less so. Insulting uses of Hoosier are prominent in Kentucky and Missouri, as well as in the slang of seafarers, loggers, trade union members, and drug traffickers. Notable Hoosier Dan Quayle even mounted a campaign in 1987 to eliminate derogatory definitions of Hoosier from Webster’s New World Dictionary. (He was unsuccessful.) Despite Hoosier’s offensive undertones, though, it’s still better than calling a Hoosier an “Indianan.” In Indiana, that’s the biggest insult of all.
You might think residents of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, are sometimes referred to as “Bunnies” because vast hordes of rabbits roam the town, or because carrots are the most popular vegetable, or because locals endlessly set new standards for breeding. Sadly, the jokey name is only a “See Der Rabbits” joke. True. Through 1932, four different minor league baseball franchises in Cedar Rapids used the name Rabbits or Bunnies, and – one would assume – that’s how the joke multiplied.
Oddly enough, the New York Knickerbockers should be the New York Irvings, because the word came from Washington Irving’s pseudonym, Diedrich Knickerbocker. Though not nearly as common as Hoosier or Sooner, a “Knickerbocker” is someone who descended from early Dutch settlers – and therefore is from New York State. Irving used the pen name while writing the satiric A History of New York in 1809.
Logically speaking, someone from elsewhere could be from anywhere, but language isn’t especially logical. The term “Elsewherian” is actually specific to California, where it was invented by former Governor Goodwin Knight to refer to anyone who hails from anywhere but the Golden State. The Golden State being, of course, where Californians, Californios (Spanish-speaking settlers in the state’s youth), Gold Coasters, Gold Diggers, and Prune Pickers can be found.
Connecticut is the nutmeg state in honor of … deceitful nutmeg peddlers? As the story goes, shady 17th- and 18th-century traders sold useless “wooden nutmegs” when they ran out of the real thing. (In truth, ill-informed buyers might not have known that raw nutmegs are actually solid, wood-like seeds that are ground into powder and not cracked like nuts.) Whatever the truth, Connecticutians loved the notion that their forebears were clever enough to pass off fake nutmegs so much that they happily adopted the name.
“Appleknocker” was originally an insult for a hillbilly, hick, or rube. In 1937, the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce in Washington tried to ban the term from the movies because it gave apple workers a bad name. However, as language changed, Appleknocker evolved into a more favorable, affectionate label for people from parts of New York or Washington State who are hip-deep in apple orchards.
Neither Porky Pig nor Wilbur is a resident of Porkopolis, but the Cincinnati Bengals are. The Ohio city earned the nickname in the 1800s because of its prominent pork-packing industry, and, according to the OED, the term was used until at least 1993. Thankfully, Porkpolitan magazine never materialized, so no one ever had to read the article “10 Ways to Please Your Swine.” Of course, jokey and insulting place-based nicknames are pretty common. Other examples include Pilltowner (someone from Hollywood), Chicagorilla, Louisvillain, and Baltimoron.
The article above, written by Mark Peters (July-August 2007 issue - a really neat issue, guys!), is reprinted here with permission from mental_floss magazine.
[Author's Note] Special source credit to Paul Dickson for his book Labels for Locals: What to Call People from Abeline to Zibabwe (Collins, 2006).