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Dear Editor: The problem ‘Trinbago’ doesn’t solve in expressing nationality for T&T

“[…] If Trinbago was really filling the need for a nationally unifying word, you would expect Tobagonians to be using it as well. They don’t. I’ve not met a Tobagonian who uses the term—and that’s not surprising because, in case you haven’t noticed, Tobagonians have been trying really hard to stand apart from Trinidad. 

“[…] Trinbagonian couldn’t work for Tobagonians anyway because it suggests Tobago as a flavour or derivative of Trinidad, which it is not…”

The following Letter to the Editor on the search for an inoffensive shorthand that suits Trinidad and Tobago citizens was submitted anonymously to Wired868 by “A Proud Trinidadian who loves Tobago”:

Photo: Trinbago Knight Riders fans get behind their team during CPL action against the Guyana Amazon Warriors at the Queen’s Park Oval, POS on 5 September 2018.
(Copyright Sean Morrison/ Wired868)

The problem is that we don’t have one word to stand for the union of our two islands, and some find it offensive that people use Trinidad as shorthand for the unwieldy Trinidad and Tobago. 

This definitely happens, but most people get that Tobago is understood when omitted, especially when intended audiences are local and quite aware of the context—that Trinidad, as the seat of government, is often singularly responsible for the issue discussed. 

We also miss a nationality adjective that encompasses our two islands. As a consequence of including both islands in our nation’s name, we have three ways of expressing nationality: Trinidadian, Tobagonian and the uninspiring Citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, with only the last capturing our shared unity but inspiring neither patriotic zeal nor lyrical licence. 

No wonder David Rudder and Carl Jacobs sang “Trini to de bone,” even though the Ian Wiltshire-written song celebrates sweet, sweet T&T. 

Convenient, it would have been, if our country was named for only one of our two islands—in the same way Hawaii stands for the Hawaiian archipelago, or the province of Holland stands for the whole country. But that ship has sailed and such a change now would certainly leave one island quite unhappy. 

Photo: Iconic Trinidad and Tobago bards David Rudder (right) and Carl Jacobs (centre) sing hit tune Trini to the Bone.
(via Trinidad Newsday)

Meanwhile, we’ve all learned how to communicate our country, Trinidad and Tobago, separate from our identity as a Trinidadian or Tobagonian. But if we really want one name to stand for our two islands, the word “Trinbago” is a poor candidate for two reasons.

Trinbago is a Frankenstein of a word. 

Like the real monster, it’s been fashioned together from dismembered parts—in this case, from two beautiful names: Trinidad and Tobago. And if the metaphor doesn’t work for you, maybe you can relate to the real life experience of good-looking parents creating an ugly child. That is the word Trinbago, and its equally unattractive derivative, “Trinbagonian”. 

I know not everyone will agree, but I contend that’s more because they’ve simply grown accustomed to hearing the word. Then again, some people like caraille, and many enjoy ketchup on pizza. 

Photo: Then Trinbago Knight Riders skipper Dwayne Bravo (centre, front row) with match-winner Kevon Cooper at his back, celebrates his team’s capture of their second CPL title after they defeated the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots in the final at the Brian Lara Stadium in Tarouba on 9 September 2017.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/ Wired868)

In other words, there’s no accounting for taste, and we can’t convince people about what they should or shouldn’t like—so let’s turn to the other reason Trinbago doesn’t work. 

Trinidadians are the only ones using it.

If Trinbago was really filling the need for a nationally unifying word, you would expect Tobagonians to be using it as well. They don’t. I’ve not met a Tobagonian who uses the term—and that’s not surprising because, in case you haven’t noticed, Tobagonians have been trying really hard to stand apart from Trinidad. 

They’re not separatists but they are progressive and proud to be Tobagonians, not Trinbagonians. And there’s nothing wrong with that. 

Trinbagonian couldn’t work for Tobagonians anyway because it suggests Tobago as a flavour or derivative of Trinidad, which it is not. 

Photo: Tobago Heritage Dance Performers strut their stuff at the Dwight Yorke Stadium in Bacolet during the 2015 Legends Football tournament.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/ Wired868)

Certainly, let’s invent or find a new word that doesn’t favour either island, in the same way that Dutch works for citizens of the Netherlands. I would strongly support such a new name, even if unofficial, as a sign of a rebirth—a Phoenix rising from the ashes—that our nation sorely needs.

But in the meantime Trinis, let’s retire Trinbago. Let Tobagonians be proud Tobagonians, with their own distinct culture, and values, charting their future alongside their Trinidadian brothers and sisters. 

We don’t need the vocabulary car accident of “Trinbago” to prove we belong to the same country, or that Trinidadians love Tobago. 

Let’s just help them to be self-sufficient, visit more often, and be respectful when we do. 

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