University of Wisconsin–Madison

When I first encountered American Girls, I had a completely different approach to understanding what “American” meant in the context. Honestly, I thought American represented the company more than the girls themselves. Similar to things like Swedish Fish or French Fries, an arbitrary nationality added to a concept to make a distinguishable product. While this might be the case, I find it interesting that it could be describing the girls themselves.

All of the resources that we have been presented with in class fail to address this use of the word “American”, but I believe it to be relevant to understanding the history of American Girl.

The keywords essay by Kirsten Gruesz explained that the definition of “American” is static; it changes over time. The etymology could reference the European-coined term referencing what is now collectively known as both North and South America. However, we have modern meanings that can be implied, as well. Furthermore, she explains that the word is multidimensional. It can be used in different ways depending on the context. I like this explanation, in part, because it is ambiguous, but also because it accurately represents the history and current definitions of American. We can see the evolution of this change as evidenced by the incorporation of different histories of the featured American Girl dolls. For example, the featured dolls were originally very similar, but have diversified in the decades following. However, what it doesn’t do is get us any closer to understanding what it means in the context of the American Girl company.

Though not relating to girlhood at all, I would like to take a minute to make the connection between other companies that use American ambiguously in their company names. For example, America’s Best is a store providing optical care and supplies. Do they debate what they mean by “American”? Do they have a strict definition in which they follow for both “America’s” and “Best”? I again circle back to the original thought I had that companies sometimes arbitrarily add nationalistic words to gain popularity in certain audiences. Particularly in the context of adding “America” (or a variation) it seems reasonable to think that this is a cheap add-on for companies to tap into the nationalistic emotions that many people have.

Ultimately, I would suppose that the definition of “American” is ambiguous, largely using insubstantial evidence to support a general claim supporting one’s social identity.

1 thought on “”

  1. Keila,
    I completely agree that the definition of “American” is quite ambiguous and is used in many different ways depending on the context, some which you highlighted in examples above. After reading your post, I really tried to think about other companies that include the word “American” in either their brand or slogan, which is something I had never even considered before. I think you brought up a really good point by mentioning this and how these companies attempt to define their meaning of “American.”

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