It’s ‘Whitehorsian,’ proclaims linguist

What do you call someone who lives in Whitehorse? A Whitehorsian? Whitehorser? Whitehorsite? An Outsider? "If you want an expert's opinion, it's Whitehorsian," said Daniel Siddiqi, an assistant professor of linguistics at C

What do you call someone who lives in Whitehorse?

A Whitehorsian? Whitehorser? Whitehorsite? An Outsider?

“If you want an expert’s opinion, it’s Whitehorsian,” said Daniel Siddiqi, an assistant professor of linguistics at Carleton University.

For decades, Whitehorse residents have deftly skirted the issue.

Faced with the doltish potential candidates—Whitehorser, Whitehorsite and Whitehorsian—residents will usually opt for an awkward substitute.

“I’ve never heard of a fancy term,” said Whitehorse Mayor Bev Buckway.

“We are the residents of Whitehorse,” interrupted councillor Florence Roberts.

Previous councils have wrestled with the issue, but ultimately folded before assigning an official term, said Buckway.

Whitehorse, Australia, suffers a similar fate.

The Whitehorse Leader newspaper refers to its readership strictly as ‘Whitehorse residents,’ a stylistic cop-out it shares with both the Yukon News and the Whitehorse Star.

The term “Whitehorse resident” is a convenient “linguistic patch,” says McGill University linguistics professor Charles Boberg.

Whitehorsian would appear to be the most obvious term, falling in line with the -ian suffix.

It’s the “default” option, said Siddiqi.

The -ian suffix is favoured by Canadian cities, especially in the West.

Of seven major Western Canadian cities, five have sided with -ian.

And while Whitehorsian is spurned by Yukoners, it has weaseled its way into fringe elements of the Canadian vernacular.

Travel planning website tripatlas.com lists Pierre Berton as a famous “Whitehorsian.”

Englishgateway.com, an English-as-a-second-language website, lists “Whitehorsian” in its lesson on placenames.

Yet Dawson City opts for the -ite ending, most likely because it ends on the letter ‘n.’

“The same thing happens with Sodom, you get Sodomite,” said Siddiqi.

Dawsonian sounds less like a citizen of Dawson than someone who studies Dawson, he said.

Names are ultimately a sociological invention, said John Esling, chair of the department of linguistics at the University of Victoria.

“If we wanted to approach this subject, then we’d do a socio-linguistic type survey and find out what different people in the community say,” said Esling.

Ultimately, the “correct” name is simply the one that locals choose to use.

“We can choose not to use the default if we want to,” said Siddiqi.

“I’m Pakistani, not Pakistanian, just because we’re choosing to use the indigenous way of saying it,” he said.

If Whitehorse were a German municipality, it would likely take the suffix of -er, as in Berliner, Frankfurter or Hamburger.

For esthetic reasons, Winnipeg, Montreal and the Yukon have all gone the way of the -er.

“Everyone’s comfortable with Yukoner because Yukon doesn’t mean anything in English,” said Boberg.

In the UK, birthplace of the English language, place names fervently defy any sort of linguistic pattern.

The coal miners of Newcastle call themselves Geordies.

The 2002 Commonwealth Games were eagerly received by the Manchunians of Manchester.

The Beatles are arguably the world’s most famous Liverpudlians, hailing from Liverpool.

Edinburgh follows the Whitehorse lead, refusing to assign a proper name to its citizenry.

The real glitch with Whitehorse, explains Boberg, is that Whitehorse connotes a noun as well as a place name.

To outsiders, Whitehorsian is apt to connote images of a secret society devoted to eggshell-coloured equines.

“Names that have real meanings in English; Whitehorse, Red Deer, Medicine Hat; suffixes don’t seem appropriate in those cases,” said Boberg.

“Whitehorsian sounds dumb, and so does Whitehorser, and so does Whitehorsite,” he said.

Contact Tristin Hopper at

tristinh@yukon-news.com