Michigander or Michiganian? The passionate debate over what to call people from the Mitten. | Michigan Radio
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Michigander or Michiganian? The passionate debate over what to call people from the Mitten.

Jan 16, 2020

If you live in Michigan, you’ve probably heard the debate over what we should call people who live here. For the most part, it’s a battle between Michiganian and Michigander, although there are few other odd-ball choices thrown in there, too. (See the suggestions of Stateside producer, Mike Blank.) 

Our new Stateside host April Baer mentioned on Twitter that she thought Michigander was a strange way to refer to people from the Great Lakes State. So, we decided to throw the question to the Twitter-verse. Our not-so-scientific poll showed an overwhelming preference for Michigander—with 92% of the votes.

But where did that term come from in the first place?

Some historical accounts suggest that Michigander was created by combining the word “Michigan” and “gander,” which means a male goose. The first use of the word is often credited to former President Abraham Lincoln. While he was in the U.S. House of Representatives, Lincoln used the word in an 1848 speech criticizing Senator Lewis Cass. He sarcastically referred to Cass, the first governor of the Michigan Territory, as “the great Michigander.”

According to the Detroit News, that was a sick burn:

“In the mid-19th century, however, goose was an insult, according to Myers, the rough equivalent of "ninny." When U.S. Rep. Lincoln called senator and presidential candidate Lewis Cass "the great Michigander" in 1848, accounts say he was also suggesting that Cass was but a goose-like follower in a campaign against a true leader, Gen. Zachary Taylor.”

More recently, though, the idea that Lincoln coined the term has been refuted. A 2019 MLive article noted several newspaper archives show Michigander was in popular use years before Lincoln’s lampoon. Those citations, from 1838 and 1842, make no reference to geese of either gender. 

While Lincoln may have used Michigander as an insult, many residents of the Great Lakes State have come to embrace the moniker. But there’s still a divide on whether it is the proper way to refer to a Michigan resident, even among the state’s leaders.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer uses the term “Michigander,” as did former Governor Rick Snyder. But previous Governors Jennifer Granholm, John Engler, and Jim Blanchard all used “Michiganian.”

A 2017 law about the placement and maintenance of historical markers quietly switched out "Michiganian" for "Michigander." But if our conversations on Twitter are any indication, the matter is still far from settled. 

What do you think? Is it Michigander or Michiganian? Do you have a new suggestion for what to call Michigan residents? Tweet us at @StatesideRadio and let us know.

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Catherine Nouhan.

This post was updated at 12:16pm on January 17, 2020.