People from Michigan have long debated what to call themselves. Most states have fairly straightforward demonyms, such as Ohioan or Georgian, and other have unique but commonly used terms, like Hoosier for people from Indiana. People from Michigan, however, simply cannot make up their minds about what they should be called. Michiganian and Michigander are the two most popular terms, although a few others are in the mix as well, such as Michiganite and Michiganer (I even had one friend who used Michigonianite!). I’ve always been a fan of Michigander. It just feels more fun than Michiganian, and I knew it was coined by Abraham Lincoln, which I think is a perfectly valid reason to approve of something. However, I was curious about the full history of the two terms, so I did a bit of research – and learned some interesting facts about my favorite term along the way.
Michiganian is the “official” term for a person from Michigan, according to the U.S. Government Printing Office. The Michigan Historical Center also uses Michiganian, and it is the term of choice in the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections, a 40 volume collection of reminiscences, transcripts of historical documents and other historical material about Michigan life dating back to the 1870s. However, according to a 2010 article on mlive.com, our leaders are divided: former Governors Jennifer Granholm, John Engler and Jim Blanchard all used Michiganian, but current Governor Rick Snyder favors Michigander. The two major Detroit newspapers are split on the issue as well, with the Detroit News using Michiganian and the Detroit Free Press choosing Michigander. When it comes to the everyday people however, Michigander is the clear winner according to the polls.
It’s not clear who first used Michiganian, but we know exactly when Michigander entered the lexicon. Like I said before, it was coined by none other than Abraham Lincoln. Unfortunately, what I didn’t realize was that Lincoln actually used the term as an insult against former Michigan Governor Lewis Cass. At the time (1848), Cass was running for president and Lincoln was just a congressman for Illinois. Lincoln accused Cass and the other Democrats of exaggerating their military accomplishments and relying too much on former Democratic president Andrew Jackson’s legacy. His use of the word “Michigander” as a combination of “Michigan” and “Gander,” was done to call Cass, essentially, a silly goose from Michigan. Here’s an excerpt from Lincoln’s speech:
“There is one entire article of the sort I have not discussed yet; I mean the military tail you Democrats are now engaged in dovetailing onto the great Michigander. Yes sir, all his biographers (and they are legion) have him in hand, tying him to a military tail, like so many mischievous boys tying a dog to a bladder of beans. True, the material they have is very limited; but they drive at it, might and main. He invaded Canada without resistance, and he outvaded it without pursuit. As he did both under orders, I suppose there was, to him, neither credit or discredit in them; but they [are made to] constitute a large part of the tail.” (source)
Yes, it turns out my favorite identifying term is actually pejorative portmanteau employed against one of my least favorite historical Michigan figures (I should really do a Famous Michigander Friday listing all the reasons I dislike Lewis Cass). Does this mean I’m going to stop using the term? Absolutely not. Despite its origins, Michigander is less stuffy, more whimsical and all around a better term to describe the people of the Great Lakes State. Besides, it’s not like Lincoln continued to hate on us – he’s also famously quoted as saying “Thank God for Michigan” when Michigan troops were the first from a western state to arrive in Washington after the Civil War began. So I will forgive Lincoln for insulting the state and just be glad he created such an awesome term. I am, and always will be, a proud Michigander.