An ethnonym (Gk. έθνος "ethnos", 'tribe', + όνομα "onoma", 'name') is the name applied to a given ethnic group. Ethnonyms can be divided into two categories: exonyms (where the name of the ethnic group has been created by another group of people) and autonyms (where the 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. This ethnonym is an exonym used by the English-speaking world, although the term itself is derived from Latin. Conversely, Germans themselves use the autonym of "Deutschen".


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 [ [ Aboriginal Rountable (1995): LCSH for ATSI People ] ] .

Change over time

Ethnonyms can take on a political aspect over time, when they evolve from socially acceptable terms to socially unacceptable terms. For instance, the term Gypsy has been used to refer to the Roma. 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Americans have demonstrated a greater evolution; older terms such as "colored" carried negative connotations and have been replaced by modern-day equivalents such as "black" or "African-American"] .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 [] , 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" [ [ Message from the Wilderness of North America. A Journal for MultiMedia History article ] ] .

Four decades later, a similar difference of opinion remains. In 2006, one commentator suggested that the term is outdated or offensive in many quarters, although its use remains in organisations such as the United Negro College Fund [ [ Mrs. Bush's Remarks at United Negro College Fund Anniversary ] ] ; similarly, the word "colored" still appears in the name of the NAACP, or National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In this context, an ethnonym has the potential to mimic the phenomenon of the euphemism treadmill.


In English, ethnonyms are generally formulated through suffixation; by applying an -n to people of Austria, their nationality is known as "Austrian". Ethnonyms can be used erroneously in determining the language spoken by an ethnic group. A child may assume that people from India speak "Indian" [] , despite there being no such language which is called by that name.


ee also

*Diaspora studies
*Hyphenated American

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Ethnonym — Eine Volksbezeichnung, auch Völkername, speziell Ethnonym bzw. Ethnikon und Demonym, ist der Name eines Volkes, einer ethnischen Gruppe, einer Nation oder Gemeinde, eines Stammes oder ähnlicher Gemeinschaft. Die Ethnonymie als Teilgebiet der… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • ethnonym — eth·no·nym (ĕthʹnō nĭm ) n. The name of a people or ethnic group.   eth no·nymʹic adj. * * * …   Universalium

  • ethnonym — noun The name of an ethnic group. See Also: autonym, endonym, exonym, xenonym …   Wiktionary

  • Ethnonym — Eth|no|nym das; s, e <zu gr. ónyma »Name«> [Selbst]bezeichnung eines Volkes …   Das große Fremdwörterbuch

  • ethnonym — eth•no•nym [[t]ˈɛθ noʊ nɪm[/t]] n. peo the name of a tribe, people, or ethnic group • Etymology: 1960–65; ethn ( o ) + onym …   From formal English to slang

  • ethnonym — …   Useful english dictionary

  • Afghan (ethnonym) — The ethnonym Afghan (افغان afġān) has been used in reference to the Pashtun people during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period.[1] The name Afghanistan (افغانستان afġānistān) is a derivation from the ethnonym, originally in the loose… …   Wikipedia

  • Crimean Tatars in Bulgaria — Part of a series on Crimean Tatars …   Wikipedia

  • Kroate — Kroaten (kroat. Hrvati, Sg. Hrvat) sind eine Ethnie, deren Angehörige mehrheitlich römisch katholischer Konfession sind und überwiegend die zum Südslawischen gehörende kroatische Sprache sprechen. Die meisten Kroaten leben in Kroatien, wo sie die …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • List of country name etymologies — This list covers English language country names with their etymologies. Some of these include notes on indigenous names and their etymologies. Countries in italics no longer exist as sovereign political entities.Aflag|Afghanistan::From Afghan and …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.