In a rare display of bipartisanship during a campaign season otherwise marked by epic ugliness, Indiana’s two U.S. senators recently banded together to take on the entrenched bureaucracy in Washington’s all-powerful Government Publishing Office.

Earlier this month, Sen. Dan Coats and Sen. Joseph Donnelly penned a letter to the GPO’s Style Board, asking it to change the designation of Indiana natives to “Hoosiers” in the 2016 GPO Style Manual. This style bible for bureaucrats requires the use of the term “Indianan” to refer to Hoosiers in all official publications of Congress, the White House and other federal agencies. But as Coats and Donnelly argued, “Indiana residents do not use this word” and in fact find it “a little jarring” to be referred to in this manner.

In their letter, the lawmakers pointed out that “whether we are cheering for the Indiana Hoosiers on the basketball court, hiking the Hoosier National Forest, or inviting friends over for some Hoosier Hospitality, we have always called ourselves Hoosiers…”

Well, not exactly always..


Shown above is a complete set of Jacob Piatt Dunn’s five-volume “Indiana and Indianans: A History of Aboriginal and Territorial Indiana and the Century of Statehood.”

Before residents of Indiana were dubbed “Hoosiers” or “Indianans,” we called ourselves “Indianians,” with an extra “i,” like our neighbors, the Canadians.

Although it’s unclear when we became “Indianians,” a newspaper in Jeffersonville claimed the name in 1818, two years after Indiana gained statehood.   Seven years later, a supporter of Isaac Blackford, the Whig candidate for governor, wrote a widely circulated series of letters to newspapers simply signed “An Indianian.” By the time the word “Hoosher” began to creep into Hoosier vocabulary in the early 1830s, “Indianian” was the generally accepted term for Indiana residents.

But “Hoosier” was soon accepted as our nickname. As the Indiana American noted in 1835:

[O]ur citizens are famed for their hospitality and generous heartedness; and the appellation of Hoosier, which has been bestowed upon Indianians, is generally knows as characteristic of a jovial, good natured, open hearted, hospitable fellow.


Whether they considered themselves “Indianians” or “Hoosiers,” Indiana residents took great pride in their hospitality from the state’s earliest days, as noted in these articles from the Wabash Herald (May 28, 1831) and the Indiana American (January 30, 1835.)

Despite the widespread usage of “Hoosier,” our official name would remain “Indianian” for another 90 years. But then in 1919, Jacob Piatt Dunn took on the same challenge as our current U.S. senators when he made an impassioned plea for Hoosiers to drop “Indianian” and call themselves something more befitting.

In this case, however, Dunn was not arguing that the term “Hoosier” was a better description of Hoosiers. Instead, he boldly asserted that there was no “I” in “Indianan,” .. or at least no “I” at the tail end.

A noted historian (or should I say “historan“), Dunn wrote a five-volume history of the state titled “Indiana and Indianans: A History of Aboriginal and Territorial Indiana and the Century of Statehood.”  While not disputing the merit of Dunn’s massive work, The Indianapolis Star took serious umbrage with the title.

In a September 1919 review of “Indiana and Indianans,” the Star noted that Dunn’s departure from accepted spelling would likely meet with disfavor.

In adopting this strange termination, ….Mr. Dunn departs from usage in a way likely to arouse unfavorable comment…. ‘Indianian’ has long been the accepted term applied to a citizen of this state..

Dunn promptly retorted that his preferred term for Indiana’s resident was rooted in the scripture.  In an October 3, 1919 letter to the Star, Dunn noted that while the terms “Hoosier” and “Indianian” may have been informally adopted because they were more euphonious than “Indianan,” there are no references in the Bible to “Romians.”  As such, Dunn said, “I claim a natural and indefeasible right to use ‘Indianan,’ and am reconciled to any reproach that may result from my waywardness.”


The Indianapolis Star, September 30, 1919

Three years later, the debate over Dunn’s decision to ditch the third “I” grabbed headlines again when a reader of The Indianapolis News chastised the paper for sponsoring a contest to name the 10 greatest Indianians.

“I am greatly puzzled by your spelling of ‘Indianians,’ Lynn Pruitt wrote in an August 5, 1922 letter to the editor. “We never write Kansians, Iowians, Nebraskians, Nevadians, Dakotians, Tenneseeians, Illiniosians, Ohioians…”

Dunn joined in six days later with his own letter to the editor that called the term “Indianian” a “palpable Hoosierism” that reflected the tendency of the state’s earliest settlers to inject an “i” into places where it didn’t belong.

The debate raged on for several more years.  On April 21, 1927, The Indianapolis Star opined that “Indianian” was a “good sounding, even musical” name that should be used to refer to the state’s citizens in preference to all other terms.  Over the next few years, the Star continued to fan the flames of the fire over the third “I,” noting in December 1941 that the head of the Indianapolis Public Library insisted that “Indianian” was correct.

 Within 10 years, however, the word “Indianian” would all but disappear from the pages of the Star.  A review of Star articles from 1919 to present day shows that usage of Indianian dropped sharply by 1950 and was last used in print in 2001. At the same time, “Indianan” was on the rise, cropping up on the pages of the Star nearly 50 times in this century alone.


The Indianapolis Star, October 17, 1903

A similar controversy briefly erupted over the correct name for residents of Indianapolis.  In 1941, a native of Louisville (a “Louisvillian”?) queried The Indianapolis Star as to whether Indy residents should be called “Indianapolitans,” Indianapolisans,” or “Indianapolites.”  The Star consulted with the head of the Indianapolis Public Library and the director of the Indiana State Library and Historical Bureau, and both experts agreed that “Indianapolitan” was the correct nomenclature.

Indeed, by 1941 the term “Indianapolitan” had been around for more than a century and was widely accepted. For example, a Star story from 1903 noted that “Indianapolitans” were not quite up to speed in their knowledge of imported cheeses.

Although the headline from the 1903 article still rings true today (“Much Cheese is Eaten Here,”) the term “Indianapolitan” has long since fallen from favor.  In fact, the last time it appeared in print in The Indianapolis Star was on November 12, 2000.  And that’s fine with me, because “Indianapolitan” seems a more fitting name for a cocktail than a resident of our fair city.


Perhaps an “Indianapolitan” would be somewhat akin to the now out-of-vogue Cosmopolitan, but with carefully curated locally sourced artisan ingredients that subtly reflect our city’s history, heritage and values in a dignified yet playful manner. With some fruit on the side.  So if you’re an amateur mixologist, what ingredients would you put in an “Indianapolitan” and how would you serve it? Feel free to leave your ideas in the Comments section.

3 responses to “Deja Vu Tuesday: Would a Hoosier by any other name smell as sweet?”

  1. Dan mullendore says:

    OK… You have left me thoroughly dissatisfied wondering what a native of Indianapolis should be called? 🙂

    Maybe “indyite”?

  2. Tiffany Benedict Browne says:

    I’ve seen numerous old articles that call us Indianapolitans, so I’ve proceeded with that. 😉

  3. George Starkey says:

    While I feel Indianapolitan is rather elegant sounding and I like it greatly, today’s lazy speakers of shortcut branding (Mass Ave., or SoBro, for example) would probably prefer Indyzen. Or, depending on mood while trying to navigate the myriad torn up roadways downtown, they might call other drivers… Indyots.

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