When you are asked, "Where are you from?" does that mean your birthplace or does it mean your current residency, or something else?

People are more mobile than they used to be, and it's becoming common to live in more than one place for several years. I've always assumed that "from" means where I was born. Is it possible to be "from" more than one place?

ETA:I'm trying to figure out whether it really is subjective. As for context, let's say Wikipedia has categories at the bottom of an entry. Take a look. A musician who has lived in several places is categorized under "People from Chicago" and "People from Kansas City" and "People from New Orleans" because he has lived in all those places. But is that true? It seems to me he can only be "from" one of those places, because "from" means starting point, and your starting point is where you were born. You wouldn't say "I'm from Chicago and now I'm from Kansas City." You are not two people.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Janus Bahs Jacquet, David, Davo, 1006a, Mitch Sep 8 '17 at 15:44

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    It's a bit context-dependent. – Hot Licks Sep 5 '17 at 23:35
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    No, I wold not assume "from" means birthplace. If I mean birthplace, I will say birthplace or something like that. – GEdgar Sep 5 '17 at 23:42
  • I get mixed answers when I ask that question. Including some who ask which of those two do I mean. So It would appear that it is not a clear cut meaning to many people. I changed the question and ask people how they got to the city we live in. It is an open ended question and a better conversation starter. – Pooneil Sep 6 '17 at 0:08
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    See interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/1539/… on Interpersonal Skills SE. From the answers to that question, it's pretty clear that when a resident of country X asks a tourist where he is from, he doesn't mean "where were your born". – ab2 Sep 6 '17 at 0:14
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    It could mean any of your points of origin - e.g. your company, your school, your normal residence, where you grew up, where you were born, or even where your ancestors lived, etc. – Lawrence Sep 6 '17 at 2:05

The question is ambiguous, and unless a person has lived in the same place all his life, then the answer will usually include a summary of origins that the answerer considers important to mention in a given context. Depending on who is asking and in what setting, a person's answer could differ. You might not want to give your whole biography to someone you barely know, so you could just pick an origin that you feel summarizes your biography, such as 'I'm from Chicago'.

But in a different contexts, you might want to give more details, including your place of birth. An example:

I was born in Gary, Indiana but my parents moved away from there when I was six, and we lived in several places while I was growing up (the person might list some of them), but when I was 15 we moved to San Diego and Iived there until I graduated from college, then I got a job in North Carolina and that's where I currently live, so I guess you can say I'm most recently from North Carolina but originally I'm from Gary but went to high school & college in San Diego. I guess you could say I'm from several places (or even all over the place).


Where someone is from is always variable, on multiple levels.

  • First, the scope will vary; someone might be from Europe at a very broad level, or from a particular block of a particular street of a particular neighborhood of a particular district of a particular town.
  • Second, the place with which a person identifies or is identified will vary. For some people, it is their birthplace, for others, their childhood home, still others various locations with which they have the strongest emotional ties, or lived the longest, or had their first success.
  • Third, whether a place will lay claim to you may vary. Residents of transient cities may only recognize those born and bred there to be from there; residents of staid locales may consider you an outsider if your family has not lived there for generations. On the other hand, a place may lay claim to some celebrity or dignitary for the most tenuous of connections.
  • Fourth, being from a place may refer to other aspects of one's identity, as for example when representing an employer or other affiliated organization: the lady from the pharmacy; the senator from Florida.

Wikipedia is not consistent in this matter. Most lists of people include those who "were born or have lived in" or more broadly were "associated with" the city; its list of people from San Francisco encompasses

people who were born/raised in, lived in, or spent portions of their lives in San Francisco, or for whom San Francisco is a significant part of their identity, as well as music groups founded in San Francisco

and its list of people from Taunton, Massachusetts, strangely, includes those who were buried within the city limits. Its list of people from Hebron, on the other hand, only includes those born there.

There may be cultural differences at stake; in the U.S., for example, it is not uncommon for families to relocate hundreds or thousands of miles away, and especially in the professional classes in the large metropolitan areas, a large proportion of the population will be from elsewhere. I had lived in six different houses by the time I was age 8. I have almost no memory, emotional ties, or other associations with the place where I was born, a small town to which my father had moved for graduate school, and from which we departed as soon as he had defended his dissertation. Rather, if someone asks where I'm from, I usually say "California," where I spent the largest proportion of my school years.

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