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Coats, Donnelly tell federal officials: We're Hoosiers, not Indianans

April 12, 2016

Have you ever been called an Indianan?

You might not think so but indeed you have. And by the federal government, no less.

Turns out, the Government Printing Office—an agency that produces, disseminates and catalogs publications and documents for the federal government—officially refers to anyone who lives in Indiana as an Indianan. It’s in the GPO’s Style Manual, which is widely used not just by federal agencies but by the private sector as well.

That’s not OK anymore with Sens. Dan Coats and Joe Donnelly.

They have officially requested a change in the style manual, one that would call for people in Indiana to be called Hoosiers instead of Indianans.

“Indiana residents do not use this word,” the senators said in a letter to the GPO. “In fact, we find it a little jarring to be referred to in this way.”

The bipartisan letter (Coats is a Republican, Donnelly a Democrat) said that for “180 years, the residents of Indiana have proudly called themselves Hoosiers.”

“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,” they write. “The Hoosier moniker has endured since our state’s beginnings, and we urge you to consider its inclusion in the GPO’s next Style Manual.”

The Government Printing Office is in the process of updating the manual this year and the new version is expected to be released in late 2016 or early 2017, said Gary Somerset, a spokesman for the agency. Updates are done by a style board that considers language suggestions and changes.

The last update came in 2008.

“The Style Board appreciates and will consider the suggestion of Senators Coats and Donnelly,” Somerset said in an email to IBJ.

But it’s not clear how the board will respond because the suggestion is unusual. “I believe this is the first time GPO has received a request of this nature,” Somerset said.

The reference to Indianans doesn’t appear to be a common thing, even within the federal government. A search for the term among documents on the GPO’s website turns up just 15 entries—and a few appear to be typos.

But there are references that sound, well, odd—at least if you’re from Indiana. In a record of tributes to former Sen. Evan Bayh, upon his decision not to seek reelection, Sen. Harry Reid is recorded saying that the Democrat “fought for the best interests of Indianans.” And there are repeated references to Indianans in congressional hearing transcripts.

But Hoosiers aren’t the only ones referred to by awkward-sounding demonyms (the term for the name used to describe people who live in a particular country, state or other locality, according to Dictionary.com).

People from Wyoming are Wyomingites, those from Utah or Utahns, and people from New Hampshire are New Hampshirites.

But Coats and Donnelly are focused just on changing Indianans to Hoosiers.

They build their case with historical references and anecdotes, saying that references to the term Hoosiers can be found in private correspondences, travel reminiscences, and local newspapers as early as 1826. 

“However, it was not until John Finley, a poet from Richmond, Indiana, wrote ‘The Hoosier’s Nest’ that the term increased in appearance and general acceptance,” they said.

And “as Meredith Nicholson wrote in 1912,” they said, “‘The origin of the term ‘Hoosier’ is not known with certainty.  But certain it is that...Hoosiers bear their nickname proudly.’”

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