Albanian: A Person from Albany, New York, Scotland, or Albania

miller-map I often refer to the inhabitants of Albany, New York as “Albanians.” I did not create this term. The people of Albany, past and present, refer to themselves as “Albanians.” However, when I use this noun outside of New York, I confront misunderstanding from my non-New York listeners and readers who often think I am referring to the people of the Republic of Albania, not Albany.

For whatever reason, I decided to look up “Albanian” in the Oxford English Dictionary last week. To my surprise I found that "Albanian" has 9 definitions, 6 nouns & 3 adjectives.

  1. Noun, ca. 1400. A native or inhabitant of Albania, a country once located in the eastern Caucasus, in the regions that are now Azerbaijan and the southern part of the Republic of Dagestan.
  2. Noun. The Caucasian language spoken by this people.
  3. Adjective, ca. 1565. Of or relating to Scotland or its people; Scottish. Chiefly with references to the time prior to the Scottish Wars of Independence (1296-1357), in later use often in relation to the Scots who settled in what is now western Scotland.

  4. Noun, ca. 1569. A native or inhabitant of Albania; a person of Albanian descent.
  5. Noun. The Indo-European language spoken in Albania, Kosovo, and parts of Macedonia and Montenegro, and by communities of Albanian descent elsewhere.
  6. Adjective, ca. 1578. Of or belonging to the Caucasian country of Albania, its language, or its people.
  7. Noun, ca. 1685. A native or inhabitant of Scotland; a Scot. Chiefly with reference to the time prior to the Scottish Wars of Independence (1296-1357).
  8. Adjective, ca. 1593. Of or relating to Albania, its people, or its language; of or relating to Albanians, or speakers of Albanian living elsewhere.
  9. Noun, ca. 1689. A native or inhabitant of Albany, New York State.

Reading these definitions proved helpful. It helped me realize that I had used the term “Albanian” correctly as a noun and incorrectly as an adjective. I occasionally use “Albanian” as an adjective to describe viewpoints, characteristics, or goods that came from Albany. In the context of my work, I believe I can get away with using the term as an adjective. Perhaps my book, tentatively-titled America's First Gateway: Albany, N.Y, 1615-1830, will cause the OED to add an 10th definition to their entry.

My reading also taught me a new definition. I had not known that I could use “Albanian” to describe someone who lived in Scotland prior to 1296. As I study early America I won’t be able to use this definition often. Still, I will let it sit in the back of my brain as a piece of pub trivia or for when I have the opportunity to impress a medievalist who works on Scotland.

Have you ever come across a word that leads to confusion, even when you use it correctly? Please share.