What do you call someone from Greensboro?
You would think that a city of nearly 300,000 people would have a word for what you call people who live there. Yet, the city of Greensboro, North Carolina has no official demonym at all. There are a number you tend to hear around town which have come into use simply by convention: Greensboroan, Greensborian, and Greensboroite among others. They’re all rather clunky, however, with none really rolling off the tongue, and I’d personally rather our fair city find a better demonym to use.
So what is a demonym, anyway?
The word “demonym” comes into English from Ancient Greek, a combination of the words dêmos, “people”, and ónyma, “name”. Literally, a “people-name”, or, in other words, the word used to describe a particular group of people, generally the inhabitants of a particular geographic region. People from New York are New Yorkers, people from Great Britain are Britons, and people from Botswana are Botswanans. Easy enough — like all good words, demonyms can make communicating easier by giving us a clear, simply way to refer to people from a given place. Yet, Greensboro North Carolina has none.
I have searched Google, Wikipedia, and digital archives to see if there’s any kind of consensus, maybe a long-lost demonym waiting in some dusty old book, but as far as I can see there truly is none. I did find some excellent new nicknames for the Gate City: James Albright’s Greensboro, 1808–1904 makes mention of “The City of Flowers” and “The Athens of the South” alongside the familiar “Gate City” moniker, though it has nothing to say on a demonym.
Evidently, a book by the name of Tyrannosaurus Lex: The Marvelous Book of Palindromes, Anagrams, & Other Delightful & Outrageous Wordplay gives us the name “Greensburghers”, but I’m uncertain as to what source the author of said book may be citing and didn’t have the wherewithal to purchase a copy. But perhaps with something like a demonym, we don’t need peer review and scholarly citations, just consensus.
As I continue searching, the bloggers behind the website Lexicide also posit that “Greensburgher” or “Greensburger” would be etymologically appropriate. Indeed, Merriam-Webster defines the word “burgher” as “an inhabitant of a borough or a town”. Given that the name of the city was originally “Greenesborough”, perhaps we could learn to think of ourselves as burghers, even Greensburghers.
So what do we actually call ourselves? A Google search returns 431 hits for “Greensboroan”, 451 for “Greensborian”, a measly 177 for “Greensboroite”, and only 99 for “Greensburgher” (“Greensburger”, with no h, had over 6,000 results, skewed by the existence of a town called Greensburg and the existence of a sandwich by that name at a local burger joint).
A soapbox section in a May, 1997 edition of the paper of record saw such suggestions as “Greensborian”, “Greensborovians”, “Greensboroan”, and “Greenies”, the last of which has a certain cute quality to it.
I also found that an informal poll on Twitter conducted by the city showed overwhelming preference for “Greensborian” over “Greensborite”, though it didn’t test for the similar “Greensboroan” or “Greensburgher”.
Ultimately, it seems there’s no clear usage-based consensus. Personally, I prefer “Greensburgher” — it’s etymologically sound and I think it has a certain whimsical quality to it that matches the distinct weirdness that I love most about my home. But the beautiful thing about there being no official name is that there’s no wrong or right answer. Whatever you want to call us is as right as anything else. What do you call people from Greensboro? Let me know in the comments section below!