One of the most frequent (and funniest) tropes on @5thYear, an Instagram account devoted to the drunken hijinks of college students, is outing a male college student for insufferable behavior, and labeling him a “Brad” for it.
Brad’s Snapchat is mostly videos of him vaping:
Or him partying (alone):
Brad wears a throwback NBA jersey and a backwards hat — together:
Brad makes lewd, obnoxious gestures when you’re trying to flirt with a woman at the bar:
And when Brad does get laid, he shares photos of his hickeys:
Brad thinks he’s cooler than he is, tougher than he is, more attractive than he is, funnier than he is and more well-liked than he is.
He’s a try-hard.
Brad, quite simply, is a douchebag, which is why @5thYear includes the hashtag #DontBeABrad on every Brad-related post.
Brad isn’t alone in his douchebaggery, either — he’s joined by his cocky cousin Chad.
Satisfying as it is to see a Brad or Chad get his due, one wonders how the names came to be shorthand for a particular kind of college-age male — an arrogant, self-aggrandizing, frat bro — and what exactly the real Brads and Chads of the world think about their names being used as pejoratives.
According to Indiana University linguistics professor Michael Adams, the negative association we have with the names Brad and Chad is a story as old as America itself. Brad is often short for Bradford, which started as a surname and is of Scottish-English origin, Adams says, reading from A Dictionary of Surnames. In Old English, the name literally means “broad clearing.”
The name crossed the pond in the late 16th century with the establishment of the first English colonies on American soil. William Bradford was one of the original Pilgrims, coming to New England on the Mayflower, and eventually serving as governor of the Plymouth Colony. “I have no idea if he was a douchey Pilgrim, though,” Adams says.
Either way, over centuries, the name Bradford became synonymous with New England aristocracy — so much so that women with the maiden name Bradford started naming their sons Bradford, to advertise that they were from the Bradford lineage. “If you were descendents of the Bradfords, or if you wanted to make it seem like you were, you might use Bradford as the name of your son — so that when you sent him off to the Exeter Academy, people would make certain assumptions about who was,” Adams explains.
And somewhere along the line, that got shortened to Brad.
Chad has an even more circuitous journey into the modern lexicon. Like Bradford, it’s Anglo-Saxon, but it started as a first name: Ceadda (pronounced “chadda”). The most popular Ceadda in history is probably, Saint Ceadda, abbot of Lastingham, bishop of York and Lichfield and the man credited with “the Christianization of the ancient English kingdom of Mercia.” But today he’s known as Saint Chad, or Chad of Mercia. Sadly, reports on how often St. Chad got totally blasted on communion wine are unavailable.
From Ceadda came Chadwick, which was a rough portmanteau of Ceadda and “wick,” an Old English word for town, Adams says. Brits named their towns Chadwick, and then adopted Chadwick as their surname.
How Chadwick came to America is unclear, but Adams guesses the Chadwicks were among some of the earliest English settlers in America. And just like the Bradfords, they named their sons Chadwick to maintain the prestige of their bloodline. Eventually, it was truncated to Chad. “So by a very strange route, Chad went from a first name, to a town name, to a last name, back to being a first name, and now a nickname, in the case just Chad,” Adam says.
This lexical history explains why we tend to think of Brad and Chad as WASP-y, old money, prep school, New England bros — there’s a legitimate historical basis to the Brad/Chad stereotype.
But it wasn’t until recently that the names carried a negative connotation. Brad hit peak popularity in 2000, when it was the 632nd most popular baby name (for boys) in the U.S., according to the Social Security Administration. It’s steadily declined afterward, and fell out of the top 1,000 in 2008.
Chad, too, reached its cultural zenith in 2000, when it was the 236th most popular name for boys. But like Brad, by 2016, it had fallen out of favor, checking in at number 800. (Data for 2017 aren’t yet available.)
All the while, people online had started clowning on Brad and Chad. For instance, many of the results for Brad on Urban Dictionary are ironic paeans to Brad’s superiority. “[Brad] is known to be the ultimate sex machine. It’s common to share his crazy sex stories to his friends. This sounds like torture, but it’s actually entertaining when you meet a Brad,” reads one of them.
The top result for Chad is similarly glowing, but the second definition gives a more accurate depiction:
“[Chad is] a tool. Someone who consistently wears cut off t-shirts, gold or silver chains, jerseys, baggy jeans, jean shorts. Favorite brands are Abercrombie, American Eagle, or Wal-Mart. They are often douche-bags.” [All sic. And: Walmart? Walmart hardly screams “moneyed, East Coast, preppy.”]
Chad carries specific meaning in certain internet communities. In r/incels, a subreddit for men who are “involuntarily celibate,” Chad is the man incels simultaneously resent and aspire to be.
Chad is handsome.
Chad is charming.
Chad’s comfortable speaking to women.
Chad fucks. (Incels, however, can’t get laid no matter what they do.)
Adams says our cultural fascination with Brad and Chad may lie in the similar phonetics of their names. Elongate the “A” in Brad and Chad, and suddenly it becomes a way to mock men with those names. “Braaaaaaahd!” “Chaaaaaaahd!” They’re names that naturally lend themselves to being made fun of.
No wonder, then, that the names have fallen out of favor.
That said, with 2000 being the most popular year for Brads and Chads, there are a bunch of 17-year-old Brads and Chads out there who will descend upon college campuses next year for the first time, and likely further cement the names as stereotypes for total goons.
For his part, Adams has had several Brads and Chads in his Indiana University classroom. “The Brads and Chads I’ve taught have never been at the top of the class, grades-wise. They usually sit in the back of the classroom. And while I can’t give you accurate statistics on their fraternity participation, they were certainly that type,” he says. “So from my own impressions, I can confirm the value of the stereotype.”