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Tampanians, Tampans or Tampeños? What Do You Call The Residents of Tampa?

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Matthew Paulson/Flickr

NPR's Ari Shapiro talks with TV host Mario R. Núñez, who sparked a debate over the proper moniker for people who live in the city of Tampa.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST: In Tampa, mayoral candidates are being asked to take a position on an important issue. We're not talking about housing or education or taxes. We're talking about the question, what should people from Tampa be called? The man leading this debate is Mario Nunez. He is a fourth-generation Tampa resident and host of "The Tampa Natives Show" on TV station TBAE. We called him up to talk about it. Hi, Mario.

MARIO NUNEZ: How are you, Ari?

SHAPIRO: I'm good. OK. I know you have a strong opinion about what people from Tampa should be called. But before we get to your preferred name, tell us what some of the candidates are.

NUNEZ: OK. There's Tampan, Tampanian and, of course, my preference, Tampeno.

SHAPIRO: Why Tampeno? Why do you prefer this one, aside from the fact that both your name, Nunez, and Tampeno have a tilde over the N?

NUNEZ: Oh, well played, Ari, well played. I give you bonus points for that. No, the reason I suggest that is because I think, first of all, if you know a little bit about our history, Tampa was known for many, many years as Cigar City. Cigars were coming out of this city hand rolled by my-great grandparents and my grandparents. Sadly, that industry has now gone offshore, and we're trying to figure out who we're going to be going forward. Tampeno, which obviously is Hispanic-Latino, it reflects that wonderful diversity that is the history of our city.

SHAPIRO: And we should say that this is not just your preference. It also won a Tampa Bay Times Twitter poll this week. Tampeno was the first choice. How is it possible that in the more than 150 years since Tampa was incorporated as a city this question still has not been definitively answered?

NUNEZ: Well, I don't think that it's been pushed out there into the public sphere like it is currently. And, of course, now with social media, everything can become a thing. My family, my cousins, we always used Tampeno. Tampanian is really an anglicized version of Tampeno. And I don't want to get too far into the weeds, Ari, but Tampan is just not acceptable. I can't tell you how many times...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) It sounds too much like something else.

NUNEZ: No - yeah, of course. And, look; we're not all sixth-graders, so we've got to just take that one off of the table right quick.

SHAPIRO: Why do you think this debate matters? Why can't everybody just use whatever word they prefer?

NUNEZ: The reason I suggest it is because the branding of a city - the rebranding in this case - is important going forward. You know, we have two major collegiate football games here every year. We've got a Super Bowl coming up in 2021. As people land here, we need to remind them of the city's cultural history.

SHAPIRO: So this is not just a popular debate. You're actually trying to make this official, right?

NUNEZ: Well, a few years back, the city of Tampa took it upon themselves to proclaim officially that the Cuban sandwich is the official sandwich of the city of Tampa.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

NUNEZ: I'm hoping that at some point Tampeno could be proclaimed as the official moniker of the residents of Tampa so that the scribes and the media when they refer to us know how to refer to us properly. It just has a cool, hip, kind of progressive vibe that reflects our city.

SHAPIRO: That's Mario Nunez, the Tampeno behind the campaign to get the city of Tampa to decide what to call people from Tampa. Thank you for joining us today.

NUNEZ: Thank you so much, Ari.

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