Coloradan CoverEven Colorado’s last state historian skirted the debate: Are residents of Colorado properly known as Coloradans or Coloradoans?

“I have made every effort to weasel out of taking a position,” said Patty Limerick, the CU historian and Center for the American West director who was, from 2016 to 2018, also the state historian.

This magazine took a clear position in 1998, when it adopted the name Coloradan after publishing as Colorado Alumnus for most of the 20th century.

The daily newspaper in Fort Collins takes a diplomatic approach: It retains the title Fort Collins Coloradoan (with the o) — but in its news reports uses the term Coloradan to refer to Colorado residents.

“Invariably, every three months I get someone who calls who says, ‘You do know you’re spelling your paper’s name wrong, right?’” the paper’s editor, Eric Larsen, said in an interview, revealing one strain of thought.

As it happens, readers of this magazine often refer to it as the Coloradoan. Perhaps this reflects that CU Boulder’s student yearbook was called the Coloradoan before switching in the 1930s to Coloradan. Or maybe it simply reflects that both terms remain in use.

But which is right?

Others who have addressed this question have advanced cultural, historical and linguistic arguments, such as the English-language convention — for place names of Spanish origin ending in o — of dropping the o before adding -an to denote a resident, as in "San Franciscan." (The Spanish word Colorado can be translated as “red” or “to turn red.”)

We humbly offer the following for consideration also: The U.S. Government Printing Office maintains a list of demonyms, or terms for inhabitants of a state. It stipulates Coloradan, not Coloradoan.

Perhaps more compelling is data provided by Google’s Ngram Viewer.

The service allows us to chart trends in the use of words by searching actual references in millions of books published from 1800 through 2000.

While scholars have argued that Ngram results do not perfectly represent popularity — written language doesn’t always mirror spoken language, for example — Ngram offers one clear interpretation of abundant available data. And it shows that each term has at times waxed supreme — but that references to Coloradan clearly surpassed references to Coloradoan in 1969.

Coloradan still held the lead as of 2000, the last year in NGram Viewer’s range. Coloradoan peaked in 1918. “It does seem that Coloradan has prevailed,” said Limerick, “and I am at peace with that.”

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