An ethnonym (from the Greek: ἔθνος, éthnos, "nation" and ὄνομα, ónoma, "name") is a name applied to a given ethnic group. Ethnonyms can be divided into two categories: exonyms (whose name of the ethnic group has been created by another group of people) and autonyms, or endonyms (whose name is created and used by the ethnic group itself).

As an example, the ethnonym for the ethnically-dominant group in Germany is the Germans. That ethnonym is an exonym used in English but itself comes from Latin. Conversely, Germans themselves use the autonym of Deutschen. Germans are indicated by exonyms in many other European languages, such as French (Allemands), Italian (tedeschi), Swedish (tyskar) and Polish (Niemcy).


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 Headings for literature pertaining to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 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.[1]

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 Romani. Other examples include Vandal, Bushman, Barbarian, 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Americans have demonstrated a greater evolution; older terms such as colored carried negative connotations and have been replaced by modern-day equivalents such as African-American. Other ethnonyms such as Negro have a different status. The term was considered acceptable in its use by activists such as Martin Luther King in the 1960s,[2] but other activists took a different perspective. In discussing an address in 1960 by Elijah Muhammad, 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".[3]

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 In 2006, one commentator suggested that the term Negro is outdated or offensive in many quarters; similarly, the word "colored" still appears in the name of the NAACP, or National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In such contexts, ethnonyms are susceptible to the phenomenon of the euphemism treadmill.[4]


In English, ethnonyms are generally formulated through suffixation; most ethnonyms for toponyms ending in -a are formed by adding -n: America, American; Austria, Austrian. In English, in many cases, the word for the dominant language of a group is identical to their English-language ethnonym; the French speak French, the Germans speak German. This is sometimes erroneously overgeneralized; it may be assumed that people from India speak "Indian",[5] despite there being no language in India which is called by that name.

Generally, any group of people may have numerous ethnonyms associated with the political affiliation with a state or a province, with geographical landmark, with the language, or another distinct feature. Ethnonym may be a compound word releted to origin or usage, polito-ethnonym indicates that name originated from the political affiliation, like Belgian for inhabitants of Belgium that have their own endonyms; topo-ethnonym refers to the ethnonym derived from the name of the locality, like Uralians for the inhabitants of the geographical area near the Ural mountains that have their own distinct endonyms. Classical geographers frequently used topo-ethnonyms (demonyms) as substitute for ethnonyms in general descriptions or for unknown endonyms. Compound teminology is widely used in professional literature to discriminate semantics of the terms.

See also


  1. ^ Aboriginal Rountable (1995): LCSH for ATSI People.
  2. ^ Jr., Martin Luther King,; Holloran, Peter; Luker, Ralph E.; Penny A. Russell (1 January 2005). The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr.: Threshold of a New Decade, January 1959-December 1960. University of California Press. p. 40. ISBN 978-0-520-24239-5. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  3. ^ Message from the Wilderness of North America. A Journal for MultiMedia History article.
  4. ^ "The game of the name" (PDF). Baltimore Sun. 1994-04-03. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-05-15. Retrieved 2011-01-19.
  5. ^ Bourne, Jill; Pollard, Andrew (26 September 2002). Teaching and Learning in the Primary School. Taylor & Francis. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-203-42511-4. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
Afghan (ethnonym)

The ethnonym Afghan (افغان Afġān) has been used in the past to denote a member of the Pashtuns, and that usage still persists in some places in Afghanistan. The name Afghanistan (افغانستان Afġānistān; Afghan + -stan) is a derivation from the ethnonym Afghan, originally in the loose meaning "land of the Pashtuns" and referred to the Pashtun tribal areas south of the Hindu Kush mountains.In the 3rd century, the Sassanids mentioned an eastern tribe called Abgân, which is attested in its Arabic form Afġān in the 10th century Ḥudūd al-ʿĀlam. Through the nineteenth century, the term "Afghan" was used by various writers as a synonym for "Pashtun", but such usage now is rare in English.Since the Afghan Constitution of 1964, "Afghan" officially refers to every citizen of the state of Afghanistan, regardless which ethnic group the individual belongs to.


Ashide - one of the dominant general and empress clan of Turkic Khaganate.


The Bosniaks (Bosnian: Bošnjaci, pronounced [boʃɲǎːtsi]; singular masculine: Bošnjak, feminine: Bošnjakinja) are a South Slavic nation and ethnic group inhabiting mainly the area of Bosnia and Herzegovina. A native minority of Bosniaks live in other countries in the Balkans; especially in the Sandžak region of Serbia and Montenegro (where Bosniaks form a regional majority), and in Croatia and Kosovo. Bosniaks are typically characterized by their historic tie to the Bosnian historical region, traditional majority adherence to Islam since the 15th and 16th centuries, common culture and Bosnian language. As of 2017 Bosniaks are also recognised as a national minority in Albania.English speakers frequently refer to Bosniaks as Bosnian Muslims or simply as Bosnians, though the latter term can also denote all inhabitants of Bosnia and Herzegovina (regardless of ethnic identity) or apply to citizenship in the country.

Over two million Bosniaks live in the Balkans, with an estimated additional million settled and living around the world. Ethnic cleansing and genocide during the Bosnian War (1991–95) have had an effect on the territorial distribution of the population. Partly due to this, a significant Bosniak diaspora exists in a number of countries, including Austria, Germany, Turkey, Australia, Sweden, Canada, and the United States.

Giimbiyu people

The Giimbiyu were an indigenous Australian people of the Northern Territory. Their descendants having adopted the Kunwinjku language.


The Gutes were a North Germanic tribe inhabiting the island of Gotland. The ethnonym is related to that of the Goths (Gutans), and both names were originally Proto-Germanic *Gutaniz. Their language is called Gutnish (gutniska). They are one of the progenitor groups of modern Swedes, along with historical Swedes and Geats.

Iran (word)

The modern Persian name of Iran (ایران) derives immediately from 3rd-century Sasanian Middle Persian ērān (Pahlavi spelling: ʼyrʼn), where it initially meant "of the Iranians", but soon also acquired a geographical connotation in the sense of "(lands inhabited by) Iranians". In both geographic and demonymic senses, ērān is distinguished from its antonymic anērān, meaning "non-Iran(ian)".In the geographic sense, ērān was also distinguished from ērānšahr, the Sasanians' own name for their empire, and which also included territories that were not primarily inhabited by ethnic Iranians.


Kuringgai (also spelled Ku-ring-gai, Kuring-gai, Guringai) (IPA: [kuriŋɡai],) is an ethnonym referring to (a) an hypothesis regarding an aggregation of indigenous Australian peoples occupying the territory between the southern borders of the Gamilaraay and the area around Sydney (b) perhaps an historical people with its own distinctive language, now lost, once located in part of that territory, or (c) people of aboriginal origin who identify themselves as descending from the original peoples denoted by (a) or (b) and who call themselves Guringai.


Lezgins (Lezgian: лезгияр) are a Northeast Caucasian ethnic group native predominantly to southern Dagestan and northeastern Azerbaijan and who speak the Lezgian language.


Matlatzinca is a name used to refer to different indigenous ethnic groups in the Toluca Valley in the state of México, located in the central highlands of Mexico. The term is applied to the ethnic group inhabiting the valley of Toluca and to their language, Matlatzinca.

When used as an ethnonym, Matlatzinca refers to the people of Matlatzinco. Matlatzinco was the Aztec (Nahuatl) term for the Toluca Valley. The political capital of the valley was also referred to as “Matlatzinco;” this was a large city whose ruins are today known as the archaeological site of Calixtlahuaca. In Prehispanic times the Toluca Valley was the home to speakers of at least four languages: Otomi, Matlatzinca, Mazahua, and Nahuatl. Thus speakers of any of these languages could be called “Matlatzinca” if they resided in the Toluca Valley. When the Aztec native historical sources or the Spanish chroniclers refer to “the Matlatzinca” it is often not clear where they mean speakers of the Matlatzinca language, the peoples of the Toluca Valley, or even the inhabitants of Calixtlahuaca.


Montenegrins (Montenegrin: Crnogorci/Црногорци, pronounced [tsr̩nǒɡoːrtsi] or [tsr̩noɡǒːrtsi]), literally "People of the Black Mountain", are a nation and South Slavic ethnic group native to Montenegro.

Nakai language

Nakai is an Ok language of West Papua. Two of the three dialects, which pronounce the ethnonym Nagi, may be a distinct language.

Name of Croatia

The name of Croatia (Croatian: Hrvatska) derives from Medieval Latin Croātia, itself a derivation of the native ethnonym, earlier Xъrvatъ and modern-day Croatian: Hrvat.

Names of the Celts

The various names used since classical times for the people known today as the Celts are of disparate origins.

The name Κελτοί (Keltoi) and Celtae is used in Greek and Latin, respectively, as the name of a people of the La Tène horizon in the region of the upper Rhine and Danube during the 6th to 1st centuries BC in Greco-Roman ethnography. The etymology of this name and that of the Gauls Γαλάται Galatai / Galli is of uncertain etymology. The name of the Welsh, on the other hand, is taken from the designator used by the Germanic peoples for Celtic- and Latin-speaking peoples, *Walhaz, meaning "foreign".

The linguistic sense of the name Celts, grouping all speakers of Celtic languages, is modern. There is scant record of the term "Celt" being used prior to the 17th century in connection with the inhabitants of Ireland and Britain during the Iron Age, however it is noteworthy that Parthenius has Celtus descend through Heracles from Bretannos; a possible partial (because the myth's roots are older) post-Gallic War epithet of Druids' travel to the islands for formal study and posited seat of the order's origins.


The Ngajanji, also written Ngadyan, are an Indigenous Australian people of the rainforest region south of Cairns, in northern Queensland. They form one of 8 groups, the others being Yidin, Mamu, Dyirbal, Girramay, Warrgamay, Waruŋu and Mbabaram, of the Dyirbal tribes.

Origin hypotheses of the Croats

The origin of the Croats before the great migration of the Slavs is uncertain. The modern Croats are considered a Slavic people, but the archaeological and other historic evidence on the migration of the Slavic settlers, the character of native population on present-day territory of Croatia, and their mutual relationship show diverse historical influences.


The Otati, or Wutati, were an Indigenous Australian people of central and eastern Cape York Peninsula in northern Queensland, according to Norman Tindale, though the ethnonym may designate the same people as the Wuthathi.


The Pakadji people, also known by the southern tribal exonym as the Koko Yao (Kuuku Ya'u), were an Indigenous Australian group of Cape York Peninsula in northern Queensland. The ethnonym Koko Ya'o is said literally to mean 'talk, speech' (koko/kuku) 'this way' (ya'o), though this has been questioned.


Rascians (Latin: Rasciani, Natio Rasciana) was an exonym in the early modern period that designated Serbs of the Habsburg Monarchy, and in a wider perspective other related South Slavic ethnic groups of the Monarchy, such as the Catholic Bunjevci and Šokci (designated "Catholic Rascians"). The term was derived from the "Raška" (Rascia), a medieval Serbian region and exonym of the medieval Serbian state in Western sources. Because of the large concentration of Serbs in the southern Pannonian Plain, this region was called Rascia, today encompassing territories of Serbia (Vojvodina), Croatia (Slavonia, south Baranya and west Syrmia), Hungary (north Baranya and north Bácska) and Romania (east Banat and lower Marisus).


The Umpithamu, also once known to ethnographers as the Koko Ompindamo, are a contemporary Indigenous Australian people of the eastern Cape York Peninsula in northern Queensland. Norman Tindale, transcribing their ethnonym Umpithamu as Umbindhamu, referred to them as a horde of the Barungguan.

Related concepts
Groups by region
Multiethnic society
Ideology and
ethnic conflict

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