Annals of commercial naming: Boy Smells

Smells like queer teen spirit.

Ads for the Boy Smells company have been popping up with some regularity in my Facebook feed — no doubt because I posted a while back on some fragrances for men, one of the two scented product lines the company offers, the other being candles. A third line is underwear, all of it explicitly labeled by the company, “This comes unscented”, but in an ad for Boy Smells products, it’s hard not to think of pungent teenager skivvies. Some ads combine the boy image of actor Tommy Dorfman with an Extra Vert Candle. Ad copy:

Discover the intimate world of Boy Smells with unique candles, fragrances & underwear. 10% of Proceeds From The Pride Collection Will Be Donated to Support the Trevor Project [providing suicide prevention efforts among LGBT+ youth].

(#1) The boyish Tommy Dorfman, something of a queer, and genderqueer, icon — attired in jade

(#2) French vert ‘green’ (suggesting the green herb tones in the scent) + extravert / extrovert ‘an outgoing, expressive person’

On the N + N compound boy smell. Like all such compounds, it’s many-ways ambiguous, with two especially salient readings:

a Source (subject-like) reading ‘smell of boys, scent like one that boys give off’ (Joe’s bedroom reeked of boy smell, which offended his mother but really turned his gay buddy Sam on) vs. a Goal (object-like) reading ‘smell for boys, scent like one that boys appreciate’ (Tony thinks lilac and freesia are girl smells, while juniper and spruce are boy smells)

Boy Smells is supposed to have the Goal reading, but the Source reading tends, unfortunately, to obtrude. Which is why Boy Smells isn’t a great trade name — unless you intend to play with the possibility of the raunchy Source reading.

Then there’s an ambiguity in the noun smell, which can convey the more general sense ‘scent, odor’ or the more specific ‘unpleasant odor, reek’. Again, the nasty reading tends to obtrude, suggesting that the company is offering candles and colognes with scents like gasoline and cigar smoke (which many men appreciate because of their associations with masculinity).

The Boy Smells product lines.

— the scented candles come in a number of collections; in particular, the Pride Collection has five scents in it: Rosalita, Philia, Ambrosia, Extra Vert, and Dynasty. You’ll have to look at the descriptions on the Boy Smells site to puzzle out what the company thinks makes a scent LGBT+-appropriate. Beats me.

— much the same for what makes their “cologne de parfum” (gender-neutral fragrance) line especially suitable for LGBT+-folk:


— then the (unscented, smell-free) underwear, which the company sometimes coyly calls unmentionables. From the site:

(#4) Yes, I too am puzzled by a bountiful identities

The underwear comes in brief and trunk styles, each in pouch front or flat front; plus a “bralette”, which appears to be an entirely cloth bra. In six colors: a dusky red called bare and five pastels, labeled blush, buff, bone, lilac, jade. Here’s a sampling of items available in lilac”:

(#5) bralette, flat brief, pouch brief, pouch trunk

And finally, a note on queer and genderqueer actor Tommy Dorfman, as a representative of the Boy Smells company, from Wikipedia:

Tommy Dorfman (born May 13, 1992) is an American actor known for playing the role of Ryan Shaver in the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why (2017).

… Dorfman is queer. Dorfman and Peter Zurkuhlen became engaged in April 2015 and were married in Portland, Maine, on November 12, 2016.

In November 2017, Dorfman came out as non-binary, and later changed their pronouns to they/them.


One Response to “Annals of commercial naming: Boy Smells”

  1. Annals of commercial naming: Bear Naked Granola | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] candles, unisex fragrances, and (unscented) underwear, all for LGBT+-folk — covered in my 6/16 posting “Annals of commercial naming: Boy Smells”; and now, for the Bear Naked® Granola […]

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