There are certain things which translate fairly easily from one language to another and others which are more typical of one language than another.  Something which exists in English, but is far more prevalent and important in Spanish is the gentilicio.   You may guess that this is to do with people, (from gente) and in fact it means ‘The name you give people who come from a certain place.’ – That’s the translation!   

One example of this in English is ‘Londoner’ and we also have ‘Oxonian’, ‘Liverpudlian’ and so on.  The Spanish also have a word for ‘Londoner’; ‘londinense’ which you do hear on the news quite often when ‘Londoners’ are experiencing something or other.

Gentilicios in Spanish are a rich source of language and are of great general interest.  They often come up as quiz questions and in everyday conversation.   Every region, province, city, town and village in Spain has one and the inhabitants are very proud and rather particular about them.   You may never have noticed them, but they crop up in articles, news reports and other language all the time.

One that a lot of people reading this might recognize is Torrevejense, a person from Torrevieja.  This is because it was used a lot by a former mayor to express the welcome the town gives to outsiders; ‘todos somos torrevejenses’ (we are all natives of Torrevieja).  Where I live the locals are called ‘pinatarenses’; from San Pedro del Pinatar, whilst people from the next town San Javier are ‘sanjaviereños’ and those from Cartagena are ‘cartageneros’.   

Some gentilicios make quite radical changes to the names of towns and go back to Latin roots of the words.  Another local one which is particularly striking is ‘ilicitano’.  It took me quite a while to realize when I first read this word that this person wasn’t a criminal, but actually a native of Elche.   Places beginning with ‘h’ or vowels seem to be most susceptible to this.  Someone from Huelva in Andalucia is called an ‘onubense’.

Famous people are often described by their gentilicio.  The famous film director Almodóvar is frequently referred to as ‘el manchego’ (from La Mancha) and the footballer David Villa is often called ‘el asturiano’ (from Asturias).

The one group we are all familiar with, whether we know it or not, is the ‘madrileño’, that exotic creature that descends upon us every summer.  Another example would be Rafa Nadal, who during a match is frequently referred to as ‘el mallorquín’ (from Mallorca) as well as ‘el manacorí’ from his home town of Manacor, not to mention being called ‘el español’ when competing against Murray ‘el escocés’ also referred to as ‘el británico’.

There are provincial gentilicios as well such as ‘alicantino’ from Alicante, or here’s a good one; ‘guadalajareño’ from the province of Guadalajara.  You can practice saying that for your homework!  One of the reasons gentilicios are used a lot in media reporting is that it is considered good style in Spanish to use synonyms when referring to the same thing or person.

Gentilicios are not easily gained after birth.  Years ago I lived in a relatively small village called Llanes, which its locals called ‘llaniscos’.   People who had lived there nearly all their lives, but were born in a village two kilometers down to road would say No soy llanisco de verdad; ‘I’m not really a llanisco’.  I’ve just lived here 50 years, that’s all!

Jane Cronin’s “Step by Step Spanish”

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