Who are we? You say Juneauite, I say Juneautarianist

Posted: Sunday, June 24, 2001

I was on the ferry, where it seems I get all my social interaction and intellectual stimulation these days, when I ran up against a real interesting debate. What should/do Juneau people call themselves? I remember that Skagway attempted to settle any question on what their burghers are with a few decisive letters to the editor in their newspaper. We who had been calling them (and us, when I was one) Skagwegians were chastised and dismissed and the agreed on label of Skagwayans was announced. Bitter disappointment barely covers my feelings over such a clever, high-spirited town settling for an uninspired description like that. A terrible waste.

Wondering what other Alaskan towns do, I called an old buddy in Anchorage who, like me, grew up there. So, what do you call yourself, I asked? He thought, but drew a blank. Neither he nor I had ever heard anyone in Anchorage seriously refer to themselves in any kind of an Anchorage collective. He shared what he's heard people from Big Lake call the town itself and I had to break it to him that everyone outside Anchorage calls it that.

Other towns in Alaska are much easier to put a suffix on. My brother calls people from Palmer Palmeranians, the buddy from Anchorage calls them Palmeridians. There are Wasillians, Fairbanksans, Spenardians (or Spenardos), Chugiakers, Tokers, Cordovans, Valdezians and, the classic, Homeroids.

Juneau, ending with a vowel sound, has a lot of possibilities. I thought I would hear a wide variety of suffixes when I asked around here. Sadly, not. Most people said they call themselves Juneauites, a few Juneauers, and one, whom I won't name, Juneauarian. The question I used for all was, "Since you live in Juneau, what do you call yourself?" The more interesting responses included: crazy, an Alaskan, a Southeasterner, a shootist and Brad. This was harder than it looked. One person allowed that Juneauite sounded Biblical, but that Juneauan was otherworldly, sort of alien. Other people agreed there is an old-fashioned air to Juneauite, but were not very comfortable with Juneauer. The majority I polled called themselves Juneauites.

I realize that some people want no levity on or about their identity in terms of place (like Skagway), but why would one settle for Juneauite with so many pleasant sounding and interesting options? Look at Michiganders, Canadians and Hoosiers for inspiration. We could live in New Hampshire or Kansas, places I am a total loss on how to convert to a group identifier.

Juneau, here are all the fairly reasonable suffixes I could think of: id, oid, an, er, een, eer, ette, ist and ine. Less reasonable: m (Juneaum, like genome). If we could break away a little further, as the Hoosiers did, we could call ourselves Cloudburghers and everyone would know where we live. Let me know what you prefer and I will use it. I would hate to offend my townsfellows with inappropriate labeling.

Now I know why some people bury their noses in laptops and books on the ferry. It's not that they are tired of the scenery, it's so they won't get dragged into bottomless and gritty discussions and wind up lugging them home with their bags.

Nita Nettleton can be reached at nitan@alaska.com.

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