Wannabe vs Gonnabe — Desire vs Destiny

Though the term “meritocracy” is of relatively recent origin – coined by British sociologist and entrepreneur Michael Young in the 1950’s – Americans have embraced – or at least given lip service to – meritocracy as the bulwark of the American Dream. In this favored nation it is motivation, coupled with hard work, that leads to success in life.

In recent months I have read with interest a number of thoughtful articles [see links listed below) that challenge Americans’ blind faith in the dream that didn’t come true. These articles give me pause, particularly as my mind grapples with the power of unbridled wealth to determine our mortal destinies. In the post-meritocracy age it appears that the privileged few are predestined to call the shots when it comes to media control, politics, food and agriculture, social justice, the global economy, environmental management, and virtually every nook and cranny of our professional and personal lives.

My fears about the precarious state of the 99% are no doubt exacerbated by the fact that my life of late intertwines with the realities of life inside the Beltway, gathering ground of the Deciders and their functionaries.

Because deep thought only made matters worse, I turned to whimsy. Unreconstructed English major that I am, that means word play. Mostly to alleviate stress, my quest has been to fashion a term that captures the essence of the force – and thus the process – that institutionalizes today’s “hereditary meritocracy”.

I’ve come up with the term “gonnabe”, derived from the colloquial “wannabe.” The clear distinction is that, while the wannabe clings to hope, the upward mobility of the gonnabe is predestined and meticulously groomed for glory.


Wannabe /ˈwɒˌbiː/

Noun (informal)

  1. a person who desires to be, or be like, someone or something else: a group of Marilyn Monroe wannabes
  2. (as modifier): a wannabe film star

Word Origin

C20: phonetic shortening of “want to be”

– Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition

Word Origin and History for wannabe

noun – 1981, originally American English surfer slang, from casual pronunciation of want to be; popularized c.1984 in reference to female fans of pop singer Madonna.   Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

* * * *

Gonnabe / ‘gonna,bi:/

Noun (informal)

  1. a person who intends, is destined to be, important, exceedingly wealthy, politically influential: gonnabes are to the status born
  2. (as modifier): the gonnabe life demands unswerving attention to self-interest, strategies that capitalize on inherent and inherited privilege, calculated cultivation of useful connections in a wide range of spheres, including, but not limited to, education, profession, residence, position, and judicious cultivation of friends in high places.

Word Origin:

Phonetic shortening of “going to be”

Word Origin and History for gonnabe

n –  2015, self-originated in frustration with the contemporary movement to re-create manifest destiny as the birthright of the Chosen Few. Gonnabes assume their classic good looks, financial, social and political triumphs, helicopter parents, Ivy League education and descent money attest to a modern-day divine right of gonnabes. They eschew, or may be unaware of, fundamental democratic principles, including fundamentals of the meritocracy theory.

Gonnabe Indicators – Selected

  • Familial lineage characterized by status in the right social, financial and political circles
  • Education of forebears – private, Ivy League, socially, politically and financially engaged. Some global experience.
  • Private education. Parental/preschooler engagement in competitive process that assures admission to high status private educational system. Note: In the rare case that early education necessitates enrollment in public school, the risk is mitigated by geographic reality. Since public schools are supported by local property taxes, those situated in affluent communities often levy taxes sufficient to meet gonnabes’ aspirations in terms of athletics, academics, cultural opportunities and social contacts.
  • Exposure, including private lessons, to classical music, modern art, modern dance and/or ballet, unique athletic pursuits (e.g. scuba diving, horseback riding, polo, fencing)
  • Tutoring as needed to remediate learning lacunae, focus on etiquette and preparation for consequential examinations designed to favor the test-prepared.
  • Preferential treatment at ancestors’ alma maters with predictable pledge to the family’s traditional fraternity/sorority
  • Trend-setting wardrobe, designer labels acceptable, originals highly favored.
  • Active cultivation of media contacts, including social media, journalists, photographers, entertainers, public relations professionals, elite constellation of message-crafters and communicators
  • Membership in and generous contributions to strategically significant political party, academic institutions, professional and advocacy organizations, faith community, domestic and global organizations of influence.
  • Marriage with similarly predestined gonnabe to ensure subsequent procreation and cultivation of the next generation of gonnabes.

And thus the trajectory of the gonnabe’s future is in orbit. The gonnabe family is launched to enjoy the life and wield the power that is their predestined right.

* * *

And yet, as we plunge into election season, my inclination is to echo the cautionary note of the Economist editors:

Loosening the link between birth and success would make America richer – far too much talent is currently wasted. It might also make the nation more cohesive. If Americans suspect that the game is rigged, they may be tempted to vote for demagogues of the right or left – especially if the grown-up alternative is another Clinton or yet another Bush.


“The 1 percent plays us for suckers” http://www.salon.com/2015/04/19/the_1_percent_plays_us_for_suckers_there_is_no_meritocracy_and_theyve_strangled_the_american_dream/

“America’s new aristocracy” http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21640331-importance-intellectual-capital-grows-privilege-has-become-increasingly

“An hereditary meritocracy” http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21640316-children-rich-and-powerful-are-increasingly-well-suited-earning-wealth-and-power






2 responses to “Wannabe vs Gonnabe — Desire vs Destiny

  1. have taken the liberty of reposting this delightful post on LinkedIn

  2. jandmjr@comcast.net

    Hi Mary:  A very thoughtful article.  I like the title  Wannabe vs. Gonnabe.  M.J.

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