What’s in a name?

In getting prepared to launch this blog, I’ve kicked ideas around with some friends and family. I talked about my reasons for wanting to start this blog, and everyone has been supportive, in part because they know how much I enjoy writing as a means to express myself artistically and professionally. At dinner a couple of weeks ago, I brought the two final logo samples to ask a friend’s opinion. My friend Katy* took the proof sheet and stared at the paper in a manner that tried to look studious.  But I could tell she wasn’t getting something…

“Fangirl?” she finally said.

For a moment, my overly active imagination wondered if Katy was visualizing a girl dressed in a superhero cape, with a bold FG emblazoned across her chest, brandishing a super-sized oscillating fan to blow the forces of evil away in a tumbling mass of limbs. Yeah, I know. Probably not what she saw.

The problem then becomes, how do you explain to the uninitiated what exactly a fangirl is? And more importantly, why it matters to me? Today, I’m just going to focus on trying to define the term so we have somewhere to start. Anyone who gets to know me quickly becomes aware of my fanaticism over words. Words are like weapons; they should be wielded with precision and accuracy. When words are used clumsily, there’s often a mess of wrong turns, miscues, and, worst of all, hurt feelings.

As a matter of course, I like to look words up in the dictionary, just to be sure I’ve got them right. (Okay, admittedly other times it’s to prove to someone else that they’ve got the meaning all wrong.) So it was natural for me to search the dictionary for “fangirl.”  And guess what? It isn’t there.

“Fanboy,” on the other hand, can be found, identified and defined in a neat dictionary summary. From the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:

          fanboy: a boy who is an enthusiastic devotee

All things considered I think that’s a pretty fair description, at least for purposes of the short version for my not yet enlightened friend.

If I really wanted a friend to understand the term “fanboy,” though, I might invite them over to see the movie Fanboys, which depicts an unabashed and riotous view of how far devotion to a franchise can go. This all begs the question though – how do we define “fangirl”? Just replace “boy” with “girl,” and fangirl simply means “a girl who is an enthusiastic devotee.” Right?

I’d argue that it’s not quite that simple. Between the boys or the girls, nothing ever really is. In a crunch, the modified definition should work when your friend’s eyes glaze over trying to picture that caped girl holding a megafan. I’m not promising they’ll get what it means to be a fangirl, but it’s a start. Next time I venture into the subject of fangirls, I’ll peel back that neat Merriam-Webster package and discuss the similarities and differences between fanboys and fangirls. Until then…

Many blessings,

FANgirl

*Names have been changed to protect my uninitiated friend.

Fangirl
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Tricia Barr took her understanding of brand management and marketing, mixed it with a love of genre storytelling, and added a dash of social media flare to create FANgirl Blog, where she discusses Star Wars, fandom, and the intersection of women within Star Wars fandom. She is co-author of Ultimate Star Wars and Star Wars Visual Encyclopedia from DK Publishing, a featured writer for Star Wars Insider magazine with numerous articles on the Hero's Journey. Her FANgirl opinions can be heard on the podcasts Hyperspace Theories and Fangirls Going Rogue. Tricia Barr's novel, Wynde, won the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Ebook. She was also part of Silence in the Library's successful all-female creator science fiction and fantasy anthology Athena's Daughters, which is available now. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.

7 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  • September 30, 2010 at 8:15 am
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    A word is not only defined by a dictionary, what it means depends on how people perceive it and react to it. And folks most definitely react differently between fanboy and fangirl. So yeah, it’s not that simple and I think you’ve got a lot to cover here.

  • October 4, 2010 at 1:30 pm
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    When words are used “like weapons” one cannot ignore the issue of intent. If, consciously or not, someone wants to use a word derisively, to dismiss, antagonize, or hurt others, then language definitely becomes a sword. However, words are primarily communicative and therefore establishing an accurate social understanding of a new word such as “fangirl” is extremely important in order to minimize the impact of careless or intentionally harmful use. (I believe “careless” action is more common than “clumsy”.)

    Once a word becomes associated with certain attributes, it can become quite fixed in the public consciousness. Since these associations often develop very quickly in western culture, the accurate definition of a new word depends on people proactively raising public awareness of its true meaning. Your blog is a good example of this.

    As you pointed out, “fanboy” already appears in the dictionary. It is also important to note that our society associates the term with a collection of positive, negative, or neutral attributes. They are a mix of accurate and utterly misleading references based on individual perceptions that are sometimes used derisively: geek, computer nerd, gamer, obsessive teenager, consumer of toys and collectibles, etc. While a few of these terms are transferable to “fangirls” (e.g., consumer and gamer), I agree that the feminine form remains largely undefined. A certain amount of associative cross-over with “fanboy” is inevitable – and even appropriate – yet because “fangirl” still prompts more questions than immediate assumptions we absolutely have an opportunity to help define this word. In so doing, we might potentially avoid some of the derision “fanboys” often elicits in the public consciousness.

    By clarifying the social attributes of what it means to be a “fangirl” we can help to add it to the lexicon alongside “fanboy” – and distinguish between the two. It is an opportunity to have a positive influence and to prevent neutral or negative stereotyping. Let’s hope that the voices currently being raised through new ventures such as “Her Universe”, “Team Unicorn”, and your analytical discussion here are only the beginning of the adventure for fangirls everywhere.

  • October 16, 2010 at 4:01 pm
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    You are helping us “get it.” On a recent episode of Private Practice, the therapist and 13 year old boy talked about being “fanboys”. That would have gone right over our heads if we hadn’t read your blog. Maybe there is hope for us yet.

    • October 19, 2010 at 11:33 am
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      Just wait until I start differentiating between fangirls and fanboys.

  • December 21, 2010 at 12:48 pm
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    Oooh, you’re such an inspiration. I love this blog!

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