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Why everyone online is calling these Hollywood men 'babygirl'

The term has risen in popularity as a descriptor not for little girls, but for male actors and male-presenting characters.
Actors Paul Mescal, Pedro Pascal, and Jeremy Strong against a pink air-bushed background; text overlay reads "Baby Girl" in white script lettering
Paul Mescal, Pedro Pascal and Jeremy Strong (who plays Kendall Roy on "Succession") are some of the many "babygirls" of the internet.Leila Register / NBC News / Getty Images

Online, the “Succession” character Kendall Roy has been described as many things: depressed, desperate for attention, cringe.

But to his die-hard following, Kendall — played by Jeremy Strong — is just “babygirl.”

In internet speak, that descriptor isn’t a pejorative. The term has been repurposed by fans online to label their favorite men (fictional or real).

“Babygirl,” often written as one word, has risen in popularity as a descriptor not for little girls, but for male actors and male-presenting characters. In recent months, “babygirl” has become a catchall term that applies to a range of men: Some have used the word to describe a man they perceive as vulnerable and submissive, while others use it to describe brooding, surly men.

Because "the exact metrics of what makes a man a babygirl [are] seemingly still loose," according to meme database Know Your Meme, a succinct definition of the word as it is used on social media doesn't exist.

The term has been applied to actor Pedro Pascal, as well as Joel, the character he plays on the HBO show “The Last of Us.” It has also been used to describe the vulnerability of actor Paul Mescal and the quirkiness of actor Willem Dafoe. These are just some of the many men who have been deemed "babygirl."

“girls be like ‘he’s so babygirl’ and it’s the darkest, most brooding, melancholic, tortured man you’ve ever laid eyes on,” one person tweeted.

“Babygirl” has been used in its current context since at least 2021, but its popularity has only continued to grow, according to Phillip Hamilton, an editor for Know Your Meme. 

In 2023, “babygirl” exploded on social media, often tied to the airing of episodes of popular television, and entered the internet’s mainstream vocabulary. Some experts also note that “babygirl” marks an interesting milestone in the linguistics of the internet, in which a feminine term is applied to a male figure in a way that isn’t pejorative or derogatory.

Sylvia Sierra, an assistant professor of communication and rhetorical studies at Syracuse University, said that sexism and misogyny are at the root of why heteronormative men often balk at being called a feminine term. “Babygirl” might be different.

Typically, there’s “negative valence attached to these terms for women. ... With ‘babygirl,’ you’re not seeing that. It actually is being used in like a positive way, like you’re highlighting favorable qualities in a man,” said Sierra, who has a doctorate in linguistics from Georgetown University.

Social media accelerates the spread — and in some cases the acceptance — of gender-defying words and terms, Sierra said. But, she said, it’s not impossible for a phrase like “babygirl” to take off in real life.

It’s unclear who coined “babygirl” as a term for men; Know Your Meme’s first documented case of the phrase being directed at men is in a 2017 post on Wattpad, a free platform where people write stories. From there, the term grew on sites like Tumblr and was predominantly used in fandoms to describe male characters.

Hamilton suggested there is humor in the incongruity between the term and the men to whom “babygirl” is applied. He added that many of the men called “babygirl” look like they would take offense if they found out they were being called the term online.

“It’s like the opposite of what a typical sort of manly man kind of guy might want to be called, right?” he said. “But online that kind of works.”

For Leila Loiza, 23, a Twitter user who has tweeted about both Kendall Roy and actor Charlie Day from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” being “babygirl,” the shift in language to be more inclusive and gender-fluid is exciting.

“It’s a shift into terms that are used toward a more feminine audience and are now being opened up to a more masculine audience,” Loiza said. “So it’s a new step up in gender-neutral terms.”

Loiza said she began using the term earlier this year, although she recalled that actor Shemar Moore’s catchphrase of “baby girl” on the show “Criminal Minds,” where he played Derek Morgan, was also popular on social media.

Twitter user Din M’Rini, 25, described Pascal as the original “babygirl.” But she noted that the current king “babygirl” is Kendall Roy.

M’Rini said seeing language evolve online to have a more positive spin on feminine words that are applied to men is “beautiful.” She said she’s also looking forward to if and when “babygirl” takes the leap from social media term to real-life compliment.

“I cannot wait to see like the day in which I’m at the gym or something, and like some gym bro next to me says like, ‘Oh, he’s so babygirl.’”