How do you name an archetype? An idealized concept should feel realer than reality, summing up your whole image of a slice of the world. Whatever name you choose, it will reveal a lot about your worldview. That’s certainly the case with the online subculture of “incels” and the two archetypes at its center: the Chad and the Stacy.
The full story of Chad and Stacy will take us through generational name trends, Revenge of the Nerds, and a pre-Stonewall gay scene. But first, to understand Chad and Stacy you have to understand more about incels themselves.
On internet forums, groups of lonely, frustrated, socially challenged young men have constructed their own social belief system. They call themselves incels, the “involuntarily celibate,” and their worldview is steeped in a malignant brew of misogyny and self-loathing that has led to violence. To get an idea of their perspective, put aside the world you know. Imagine instead that women are not fully human, and exist primarily for the sexual gratification of men. Imagine further that men don’t merely desire but deserve sexual service from women. This supposed right, however, is being denied to a segment of men, incels, because of a warped sexual economy. Just as the wealthiest sliver of society has come to control a vastly outsized percentage of America’s wealth, incels believe that the hottest sliver of men now receives a vastly outsized percentage of America’s sex.
Those ultra-hot men, whom the incels envision as big, handsome jock types, are referred to by the name Chad. Chads are resented by incels, but also envied and admired. Their female counterparts are called Stacy and pictured as curvaceous blond cheerleader types. They are desired, but also loathed and vilified.
Chad and Stacy, alpha jock and cheerleader names? Not today, they’re not. Chad and Stacy were two of the defining baby names of the early 1970s. Today’s young incels are more likely to have parents by those names than same-age sexual idols .
The anachronistic name choices are a sign that the names don’t represent people, but social concepts. Conceptual archetype names rely on a combination of name style and name era to make their impact. Plucking a name out of another time helps anchor the image at the era most linked to it in the popular imagination.
Take the archetype names Little Susie and Little Timmy. We still use terms like those to refer to generic middle-American children, even though Timmy and Susie are unlikely names for modern kids. The style selection makes sense. Susie and Timmy are diminutive nicknames, the natural shorthand for “young and small.” If we wanted to suggest actual children, though, we would update the names. Little Emmy and Charlie, perhaps? The names have been frozen in time to summon a cultural ideal of childhood innocence. Names from the mid-20th century like Susie and Timmy do the trick, thanks to that era’s combination of robust child labor laws, economic prosperity, pre-Vietnam optimism, and sanitized “Father Knows Best” Hollywood imagery.
I call the Little Timmy phenomenon the “Mid-Century Normative Child.” Chad and Stacy are “1980s Normative Alpha Teens.” They owe their anachronistic power to ’80s teen movies, and in the case of studly Chad to one man’s 1960s ideal of, well, studliness.
The notion that big handsome guys get all the girls is age-old. But in the ’80s, it was perfected as Hollywood formula. Movies like Pretty in Pink, Weird Science, Sixteen Candles, Lucas, and most aggressively the Revenge of the Nerds series defined the romantic/sexual arena of young men as a lopsided battle. Big, handsome, athletic guys could stand around being jerks while desirable girls flocked to them. Meanwhile scrawnier, nerdier guys got zero female attention, regardless of their actions or personalities.
That’s the generational setup. Next comes the name style. To exemplify the image, a name would have to be gender-marked (e.g. vowel endings for for girls) and generation-marked, trendy for its time and representative of the broader sounds of the era. In short, pure ’80s cool.
Stacy and Chad hit all the targets. In the 1980s, the two names were nearing the top of a sharp popularity peak among teenagers. Stacy was a leader of a wave of nouveau-girly names like Tracy, Jodi, Holly and Kerry, while Chad ran with the bluntly confident likes of Brent, Todd, Lance and Brad. Together, the two names stand for the height of mainstream fashion in their generation.
In Chad’s case, the hot alpha-male fit isn’t coincidence. The name’s popularity was built on precisely that fantasy by a 1950s-60s talent agent named Harry Willson. Willson created a generation of hunky Hollywood stars, and baby names to match.
A gay man notorious for his “casting couch,” Willson scoured Los Angeles for a particular type of good-looking guy. His target was tall young white men with smooth features and long, square-jawed faces. Acting experience was not required. Willson totally reinvented his proteges, retooling their speech and grooming and giving them new, macho backstories. Shirtless publicity photos helped spur their popularity. He also renamed them, dreaming up short, energetic names that became the fresh sound of their time. Willson products like Troy Donahue, Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter and Chad (yes, Chad) Everett helped shape America’s masculine ideal, and its baby-name style.
The incel archetype name Chad, then, grows out of a ’60s gay fantasy, filtered through ’80s teen movies. Those are influences that all of us have been exposed to, directly or indirectly. They make the archetype names click, even though we know from experience that those archetypes have never been real. The real world is full of happily coupled men who look nothing like Rock Hudson. Real ’80s alpha jocks and cheerleaders were more likely to be named John and Mary than Chad and Stacy. But if you don’t fully engage with that everyday social world, Hollywood fantasy may come to seem like reality—names and all.
Thanks to reader Gina for suggesting this topic.