Last week, I got an email from a lifelong Bellingham resident who was upset I had used the term “Bellinghamsters” to describe people who live here.
Though we generally don’t use the term unless writing up a featurey story, I used it here with good reason: There’s a group that wants to build a human-sized hamster wheel in town, capitalizing on what is generally accepted (or so I thought) as the lighthearted term for the people who live here.
“I was born and raised here and I highly object to being called a ‘hamster!’” Dan Stenvers wrote to me after reading the story. “That may be a cutesie little name made up by monied people who retire here (thanks Forbes) and subjugate the locals, but don’t call me a Bellinghamster!”
That intrigued me. As someone who’s only lived in town for the last 6 years or so, I always figured it was more the young, “hipster” crowd that might have popularized and embraced the funny and (depending on who you ask) endearing term.
I grew up in Pullman, Wash., where the term Pullmanite brought to mind stalactites and stalagmites, which I thought was decidedly less endearing, so I wrote Stenvers back to see what he would prefer to be called.
“We always thought of ourselves as Bellinghamites, but come to think of it, that might bring to mind “mites” and that’s not good!” he replied (I asked if I could share some of our conversation here). “It would be interesting to see a survey of us all, those who were born here and those who have found our fair city a nice place to live. A demographic maybe, of incomes, occupations, free time activities etc.”
So here’s our very informal survey: what do you, our readers, think?
Should we call ourselves Bellinghamsters? Bellinghamers? Bellinghamites? Another demonym?
What do you call yourself, and in a sentence or so, loosely what “demographic” might you put yourself in?
Does anyone out there know when the term Bellinghamsters gained popularity? How far back do you remember using it?
I asked some of my colleagues with more experience here what they could remember. Our go-to expert for all things features and entertainment, Margaret Bikman, said the term has been used at least as long as she’s been at The Bellingham Herald, since 1986. Online editor Jim Donaldson pointed out that the Bellingham Bells’ mascot is a hamster ( a relatively new addition).
In March 2005, someone posted this definition for Bellinghamster on Urban Dictionary:
“The name given to and used by residence (sic) of Bellingham, Washington. Life is (sic) Bellingham is much like life on a hamster wheel - you're moving, but you're not going anywhere.”
(Note the common thread...)
I’ve got a few copies of The Bellingham Herald from the late 1930s at home, and I tried to find any reference to residents. The only tidbit I found was the start of a short paragraph that reads: “Gerald W. Gannon, president of the Bellingham Chamber of Commerce, appeals to Bellingham people to support Bellingham merchants.”
As I said near the beginning of this post, we still typically use that type of language when writing hard news, so the June 1938 article doesn’t necessarily mean Bellinghamsters or another term wasn’t more popular in conversation. My glance-through of three or four old copies of the paper hardly counts as thorough research, but I thought I’d throw it out there.
So let’s hear it — fill us in by commenting below, or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.