There was a woman I came across on the internet some years ago who had a pet peeve. She didn't like that people from the United States of America were referred to as, well, Americans. She seemed to think it was arrogant and that it somehow insulted other people who live on the two continents. I thought she was being silly. I still do.
I recently had occasion to recall my conversations with her about the subject during an exchane with Argentum of Nether Regions of Earth (I and II) on his Tomas Arcanum blog (see the blog roll on the right side of this blog). It seems it bothered him a bit also. I cannot understand why. What difference does it make what someone identifies himself as?
In any case, it does seem to bother a number of people that we, US citizens, call ourselves "Americans" and I thought it might be interesting to explore the subject.
I don't believe we were the first to think of ourselves as "Americans". We thought of ourselves as members of whatever colony we lived in; Virginian, Georgian, Carolinian, etc. Or we identified by region; New Englander, for example. We might even reduce our identity to city; Bostonian, New Yorker, Philadelphian. It was likely those in England who started calling us "Americans" after we freed ourselves from King George. And then the French likely did also. Much later, during World War I, we were known as "Yanks". An affectation that was not exactly affectionate most of the time. That nickname sprang from a song popular during the American Revolution.
Yankee Doodle went to town
riding on a pony.
Stuck a feather in his hat
and called it "macaroni."
Yankee Doodle went to town,
Yankee Doodle dandy.
yadda, yadda, yadda.
Well, that's how it is sung today. There were some different lyrics back in the mid 1700s. Some of them weren't all that nice since they were made up by the British.
In any event, that song was probably where the term "Yankee" came from and it normally referred to a person from the northeastern colonies (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, etc).
I suppose it became a common name for those of us living south of Canada and north and east of the Spanish and French colonies because there was no other commonality available. We were a mix of various European ethnic groups so we had no common country beyond England. Most of our industry and commerce came out of New England so the nickname seemed appropriate, I suppose.
Now, as we moved out into the world, across the seas, people might have asked where we were from. We'd likely have said "the Americas" and it would be easy for those folks to see us as "Americans" because of that. Not so in South America, I suppose, but they call us "Norte Americanos" (North Americans) anyway. Or "Yanquis" (Yankees). It's odd to me that Mexicans often call us the former since they are also in North America. In fact, anyone living north of the Isthmus of Panama would be in North America. Contrary to popular belief, there is no Central America. That is a region. To be honest, there is no separate North America or South America. It is one large continent separated by a man made canal.
I really think anyone complaining about our usurping the name "Americans" is making much a do about nothing. If anyone not a citizen of the US but living on this continent wishes to call himself "American", I have no problem with it. He might confuse some people who have accepted the term as meaning citizens of the US but that would be his (and their) problem.
After all, what should we call ourselves? "United Statesians?" How about "USians?" Nah, the latter would sound too much like "Russians".
We are routinely called a lot of names and "American" no longer has a favorable connotation, if it ever did. Why worry about such things anyway? As long as I don't call you something you don't want to be called, what do you care what I call myself?
A Night Unremembered
7 years ago