Will Utahns gather for Pioneer Day this weekend? Or will Utahans gather for Pioneer Day this weekend?
A majority of Utahns agree there’s only one right way to say it
People who live in New York are New Yorkers. Residents of New Hampshire are New Hampshirites. Those in Georgia are Georgians.
Seems simple enough.
But what about people in Utah? Are they Utahns? Or are they Utahans?
Y2 Analytics recently posed this question in a statewide survey of Utah voters: “Which of the following do you think is the correct way to spell the word that refers to someone who lives in Utah?”
Only two options were given, and Utahn was chosen 90% of the time.
“Every large group has some contrarians, so any public opinion item with 90% agreement is rare,” said Quin Monson, a partner with the Salt Lake City-based market research and data analytics group. “That’s probably higher than the proportion of Utahns who consider themselves fans of the Utah Jazz or that listen to the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.”
Even a state holiday received a smaller proportion of agreement. The survey conducted June 24 to July 7 found “only” 84% approve of Pioneer Day (July 24) being an official Utah state holiday.
The poll also found that a large percentage of Utahns believe that “Utahn” is the only acceptable demonym, the word used to refer to people in a particular country, state or city.
“The locals clearly prefer one spelling over the other,” Monson said.
The survey looked at other factors such as politics and religion to see what might predict the preference for Utahns over Utahans.
Overwhelming majorities of Democrats and Republicans, Joe Biden voters and Donald Trump voters, as well as Spencer Cox voters and Chris Peterson voters agree Utahn is correct.
“These are groups that normally see the world differently,” Monson said. “They not only cannot agree on who to vote for in an election, but many cannot even agree on who won the 2020 presidential election or if election fraud occurred during that election.”
As for religion, given the long-term religious and cultural divide in Utah, some might expect some difference on the preferred demonym. But that is not the case.
“Whether you are a Latter-day Saint, some other religion, or no religion at all, you prefer to call yourself a Utahn,” Monson said.
So Utahn it is.
But not everyone thinks so, including some major news outlets.
Y2 Analytics used the Lexis/Nexis database of news stories from 2000 to 2020 to search for both Utahn and Utahan and compute the percentage of the time news media used the correct spelling.
The New York Times only got it right 36.8% of the time. The Los Angeles Times and USA Today spelled it correctly half of the time. The Associated Press and the New York Post did it right about 60% of the time.
Every local news source, including the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune, is above 95%.
In doing a little digging to find out why those two papers would allow an incorrect spelling to go to press, Y2 Analytics found it occurred only in letters to the editor (which are not corrected) or when a snarky columnist poked fun at an outsider’s incorrect spelling.
What is the proper term to describe someone who lives in Utah? Our survey results overwhelmingly show that it's 'Utahn'. We are calling on national news orgs and Utah institutions to update their style guides. @APStylebook@PaulaFroke— Y2 Analytics (@y2analytics) July 22, 2021
Full details: https://t.co/riI3dvNDFR pic.twitter.com/yRflqNBMTh
In light of the survey results, the Utah League of Cities and Towns launched a campaign Thursday called “Call Me a Utahn” in an effort to get national news media to “call us what residents want to be called.”
Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini weighed in with some clever word play.
“I am a Utahn, because it’s much easier to pronounce and (always a plus) uses fewer letters to express the same thought. It is an honor to be called a Utahn. It is not an honour to be called a Utahan. See, even Noah Webster would approve this style change,” he said.
South Jordan Mayor Dawn Ramsey agreed, saying he is proud to be a Utahn.
“Skiing, hiking, making green Jell-O, eating ice cream and cheering for the Utah Jazz all come natural to me,” he said. “We are Utahns, not Utahans.”