MV Ps and Qs: Who gets to be called an ‘Islander’?

Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Dear Nicole,

Help us resolve a long-standing disagreement between a friend and me. What’s the definition of an Islander? Who exactly gets to be called an Islander, and/or a Vineyarder, and who has to settle for a description like “wash-ashore” or “transplant”?


NOT a wash-ashore


Dear Not:

This is a timely question, because things aren’t as absolute as they used to be, and whatever the answer to this once was, it’s surely time for an update.

For centuries, in fact since 1602 when Gosnold came upon the Island he would call Martha’s Vineyard, until the 1970s, there were only three options, viz:

  1. Born here, grew up here, lived here all your life: A real Islander
  2. Born off-Island, moved to MV when 1 day old, grew up, lived here all your life: A wash-ashore
  3. Everyone else, regardless of details: Not an Islander, but if we like you we’ll let it slide

As I said, time for an update.

Since you’re asking for categorization, well, it is Fair season after all… 

Take a look at the judges’ criteria from the Fair book for who gets to be called Islander, and some subcategories with varietals. 


A prize ribbon will be awarded for Most Outstanding Vineyarder


Department 1602


A person is considered a potential Islander if he/she/they was born, lives, works, visits, or is connected with the Island.



  1. Exact place of birth
  2. Elementary school, junior high, and high school graduated from
  3. Number of Island roads, villages, businesses, etc. named after entrant’s ancestors
  4. Number of times entrant has Vineyard-shuffled
  5. Number of 12-step meetings attended on the Vineyard
  6. Number of Back Door Donuts eaten per year
  7. Approximate level of familiarity with Bridget Tobin
  8. Anticipated place of death
  9. Percentage of Wampanoag heritage
  10. Exact number of annual town meetings attended
  11. Number of Derbies fished in
  12. Age and rustiness/dustiness of primary motor vehicle
  13. In possession SSA profile number, especially the type that qualifies you for half-price roundtrips
  14. Degree to which source of income is directly tied to Vineyard life
  15. Degree to which Island economy is impacted if entrant departs Island


PLEASE NOTE: Despite rumors to the contrary, the owning of residential property only counts toward Vineyarder status if it has been in your family for at least three generations and is not your vacation home.


Department 1602 – Vineyarders/Varietal Subcategories


Section A – Adults (Year-round or Seasonal)

A 1– MV-born, MV-raised, never left MV (“native” category 1)

A 2 – Born off-Island, moved here when 1 day old, never left (“wash-ashore” category 1)

A 3 – MV-born, MV-raised, left for school but returned for life (“native” category 2)

A 4 – MV-born, MV-raised, left for life but returned for retirement (“the one who went off-Island”)

A 5 – MV-born, MV-raised, left for life but returns to visit (“Island kid who lives off-Island”)

A 6 – Wash-ashore who now lives elsewhere but likes to say they’re from here (“poser”)

A 7 – Born and raised off-Island, moved here as adult (“wash-ashore” category 2, aka “from off-Island,” “transplant”)

A 8 – Former summer person who retired to live here year-round (“summer person”)

A 9 – Summer person who comes in spring and stays through fall (“seasonal resident”)

A 10 – Former year-round resident unable to return here due to housing crisis (“too many of us,” category 1)

A 11 – Current year-round resident unable to remain due to housing crisis (“too many of us,” category 2)


That’s my take – Nicole


Bemused readers ask bestselling novelist and Shakespeare for the Masses co-creator Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Her most recent novel, “On the Same Page,” is set on the Island in winter and concerns itself with Island newspapers. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to