I was born in Washington, and so was my father, and so was his mother. I guess that allows me to call myself a Washingtonian.
But my mother was born in Pennsylvania, and when I was just 6 weeks old, I was whisked to Japan (and then Texas, Arizona . . . ). I guess that means I can't call myself a Washingtonian.
But I came back to visit relatives in D.C. regularly, and moved here for good when I was 15. I guess that means I'm a Washingtonian.
But when I moved back, I moved to Maryland.
But I'm descended from Col. Jehiel Brooks, who gave his name to the Brookland neighborhood in Northeast.
But I live in Silver Spring.
But I work in Washington.
What the heck am I? And what are you?
"I think it doesn't go by city boundaries," said Gregory Milas, who grew up in Arlington and now lives in Alexandria. When he's out of town and people ask where he's from, Gregory says he's from Washington.
"Even though I grew up in Arlington, I grew up five miles from the White House. . . . People aren't going to know Arlington. They're going to know Washington, D.C."
Not fair, said Charles Fultz. "I think that to say that you're a Washingtonian, you have to have been born and reared in Washington. . . . I was born in Washington, D.C. Can I say that I'm from Alexandria? So why should people from Alexandria say they're from Washington?"
I'm asking because a column a while back on the pronunciation of "Washington" led to some interesting comments from readers, many of whom said you can't be of Washington unless you're in Washington.
Michael Grinage has lived in the District his whole life, except for a stint in the Navy and some time at college out west. He remembers being the only D.C. native aboard his ship and was told by shipmates that another person from Washington had joined the crew.
"I got real excited," Michael said. "I walked up to him and said, 'I heard you're from Washington.' He said, 'Yeah, Silver Spring.' I said, 'Excuse me, you're not from Washington. You're from Maryland.' "
Michael lives in Hillcrest, a leafy D.C. neighborhood that is almost indistinguishable from those in the suburbs. He said that decamping to the suburbs when the going got rough in Washington makes you a "former Washingtonian."
That's what he calls his relatives in Mitchellville: former Washingtonians. "Some of them kind of take it sensitively," he said.
Then there are "transplanted Washingtonians," people who came from elsewhere but put down roots here. They include Washington's current mayor, Anthony Williams (born in Los Angeles), and ex-mayor, Marion Barry, who grew up in the South and didn't come to Washington until he was nearly 30.
Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) was born in North Dakota but has lived nearly all his life in Northern Virginia. "I would say it's more a state of mind," he said of "Washingtonian-ness." Being a Washingtonian, he said, means identifying with the city and identifying with the city's raison d'etre, the federal government.
Besides, many people who contribute to the vitality and well-being of Washington don't actually live in it, he said. "Certainly the city doesn't want to confine [its] taxation to geographical boundaries."
What about the common belief that Washington is full of transients who just cycle in and out every few years? Is it true?
Not really, said Marc Perry, a demographer with the U.S. Census Bureau. The Washington area is no more or less or "mobile," in demographers' parlance, than other similar metropolises. Between 1995 and 2000, the Washington- Baltimore area -- which includes suburban Maryland and Virginia and bits of West Virginia -- was a bit more mobile than such metro areas as Philadelphia and Boston, but overall, it's in the middle of the pack.
"From a demographer's perspective, there is no one kind of Washingtonian," said Marc. "You have parts of the city where you have generations deep of people living there, and parts of this region that weren't even built two years ago."
For the record, Marc is originally from the Boston area. He always considered Washington a place you move to, stay in a few years, then move from. "But I moved into the District in '97 and stupidly didn't buy a place then," he said. "And I've regretted it ever since."
Which suggests to me that Marc may be turning into . . . well, some sort of Washingtonian.
And that makes me curious at what point people realize they have succumbed to the charms of this town (or this region or this standard metropolitan statistical area). A nonnative colleague of mine told me she didn't feel like a real Washingtonian until she was able to find and successfully navigate Rock Creek Parkway.
What do you think? If you're a transplant, what convinced you that had become a Washingtonian? And if you're a native -- however you define that -- what are the essential experiences or bits of knowledge that make you so?
Send your e-mails, with "Washingtonian" in the subject line, to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write John Kelly, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.
Go On, Take the Week Off
My column's going to take a little break. It'll be back all comfy and snug Nov. 29.
Are you a Washingtonian? Prove it. Come to my weekly online chat, today at 1 p.m. at www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.