Now, Bennifer, which is Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, had been popular a few years earlier. But that didn’t catch on in the same way, and what I would suggest is that it was because there wasn’t as much public affection or interest in them. Brangelina started as a relationship with scandal around it, and Angelina Jolie was already an interesting character because of the way she approached parenting and adopting very publicly.
Nicknames are something that we use when we are close to someone. And so when you assign a nickname, it creates a sense of closeness. A portmanteau of names almost has a sexual component: These names are inseparable, they’re locked, they’re penetrating each other. It’s a very intimate thing. And so to be able to talk about a couple with a nickname, I think it’s very powerful for the consumer.
Kornhaber: You’ve written that only certain kinds of couple get popular portmanteaus. What kinds of couples are those?
Díaz: So, the race and sexuality component to me is very obvious. The magazines approach this practice of combining celebrity couples’ names to make the stars relatable to people, and it’s illuminating to see who they think people will relate to. The magazines almost always choose to promote white heterosexual couples. Where are Will and Jada’s combined name? Where is Ellen Degeneres and Portia de Rossi’s name? The US Weekly section, “Stars—They’re Just Like Us,” always makes me ask, who is “us”? And what about the stars in that section make them like “us”?
After names like Brangelina were popularized, magazines started to try to get other names to catch on, like “TomKat.” It sort of popularized the practice, so everyday people started to combining their own name for fun and combining other celebrities names into couple names. This allowed for the practice to spread beyond the couples the magazines chose to market. So if you look at nontraditional media or blogs or social media, there are lots of uses of combined names for couples of color. Like with Jay Z and Beyoncé: Lots of social media [users] use the name Bey Z or Jayoncé to give the kind of validity and intimacy to these couples who are excluded in this way in mainstream media.
“Kimye” is the only combined name that’s been used in mainstream press that contains the name of an African American person. The only one. So when you talk about diversity problems in Hollywood, it starts with who the media choses to manufacture into celebrities, and those celebrities are predominately white, heterosexual, very normative.
Kornhaber: People often say celebrities embody values or ideas within a culture. What did Brangelina embody?
Díaz: Brangelina started out as, “Is this just going to be a whirlwind fling, is he just cheating on his wife?” And then it was like, “No, he’s going to adopt her kids, they’re going to adopt kids together, and they’re going to start a family.” They were doing all these things not in the typical order that people would think planning a family would go, but to the public they were already Brangelina—they were already combined.