Last week, Washingtonian incited a minor social-media revolt with a tweet promoting a quick story about Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner eating dinner at Rasika West End. “Javanka were spotted dining at Rasika West End Thursday night,” senior editor Andrew Beaujon wrote in the tweet, using a portmanteau for the President’s daughter and her husband, a senior White House adviser.
— Washingtonian (@washingtonian) March 3, 2017
The reaction was stiff and unsparing. Dorsey Shaw, a video editor at BuzzFeed, remarked that the nickname “Sounds like a Czech coffee chain.” Another reader told Washingtonian to “cut this shit out.” And Mike Daisey, the monologuist, wrote back, “Fuck you, we’re not calling them by any cute contracted name.”
The knee-jerk reaction is understandable. Given their relations to President Trump—who by most of the feedback we’ve received appears to be quite unpopular among Washingtonian‘s readership—referring to Ivanka Trump and Kushner with a clever moniker that combines their first names could be received as casting them into roles as harmless society figures. That’s exactly the kind of soft-focus behavior I warned against in January, after they moved to DC to take up roles in the Trump Administration as the President’s potentially most powerful advisers. (I’ve also groused to colleagues that we should avoid using “Javanka” in any context.)
Nicknames that mash up the participants in a celebrity romance can sound dumb to the high-minded snobs and office grumps of the world, but they serve a purpose beyond editorial shorthand. Combining the names of romantically linked famous people lends a feeling of familiarity to those of us in the cheap seats. The unconnected “want to have a nickname for the couples because they feel as if they are part of the stars’ extended group of family and friends,” Bonnie Fuller, then the editor of Star magazine, told the New York Times in 2005.
Catchiness helps, too. Javanka sounds as instantly familiar today as Bennifer was in 2002 when Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez met on the set of Gigli. Compare that with Garfleck, a term for Affleck’s subsequent relationship with Jennifer Garner that never quite caught on. But considering how it’s been deployed since January, Javanka may not actually be as mushy as other celebrity-couple nicknames, like Bennifer, Brangelina, or Kimye. Unlike those pairings, which have dominated tabloid pages at various stages of the young century, Trump and Kushner now occupy two of the most politically potent positions in the known universe.
The most frequent user of Javanka is probably Donald Trump biographer Tim O’Brien, who slipped it into a roundtable discussion with Politico Magazine just before the inauguration. And he did it in the context of the potential power Ivanka Trump and Kushner may hold over this presidency:
At the end of the day, the two most powerful people in his White House, other than him, are going to be Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, and they’re going to have the final say on everything. And whatever Gary Cohn or Rex Tillerson or General Mattis or Jeff Sessions or Steve Bannon has to say, it will all end up getting filtered through Javanka.
Michael Kruse, the Politico writer grilling O’Brien, was taken aback by the terminology, but O’Brien was confident in his usage. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner may be wealthy and attractive 30-somethings who can turn heads when they pop into Rasika or RPM Italian, but they are not in Washington to be socialites. Kushner is one of President Trump’s top aides, with considerable influence over foreign and domestic policy. He’s also not taking a salary, a move that Trump supporters can call charitable because of Kushner’s own considerable net worth, but has the affect of making it more difficult for him to be held accountable by the American people on whose behalf he’s ostensibly working. Ivanka Trump has no formal role in the White House, but is a constant presence at meetings between the President and foreign leaders, business executives, and others who have a role in shaping administration policy. She’s also, by all accounts of the Trump family, the President’s favorite child.
Javanka, therefore, isn’t an appeal to their glamour, O’Brien says. “I don’t think of it as a cute celebrity moniker,” he tells Washingtonian. “I think of it as shorthand for the joint—and relatively unchecked—power they wield in the Trump White House given their proximity to the president and the financial and familial ties that they share with him.”
So, Javanka, in fact, has a place in Washington’s current lexicon. But Trump and Kushner’s roles in the White House are far better context for this portmanteau than one of their date nights. O’Brien’s used it in his columns for Bloomberg View; Politico‘s Jack Shafer and Salon’s Erin Keane have used it, too (with deference to O’Brien).
But it gets mushy when Javanka appears outside their now-normal context of crafting policy and making national-security decisions. The Daily Dot’s David Covucci recapped the negative reaction to Washingtonian‘s tweet—and generously ascribed its coinage to the magazine—before deciding it “kinda works.” And while O’Brien has made Javanka a familiar, if still somewhat offbeat, term in descriptions of how the White House works, his ownership of the term might not be absolute.
Crain’s New York Business screamed “Javanka!” in a November 2009 headline about the couple’s marriage. A few days before, Gawker used it—sans exclamation point—in a post about a Craigslist missed connection that a wedding guest posted about a “stunning” bartender.
Still, whenever Javanka emerged, O’Brien’s version is the best and most appropriate one. Javanka goes out to dinner and becomes fodder for gossip mongers. Javanka also works in the White House, wielding considerable power not just over foreign and domestic affairs, but over the behavior of a short-tempered, paranoid, conspiracy-prone President who may one day dismiss or demote all his other aides. But he will never abandon Javanka. Better to use the name sparingly, but always with its potency in mind.