What's in a name? Well rather a lot, if you ask Chelsea FC. The football club has announced that it's changing the name of its women's team, dropping the word "ladies" and rearranging the order so that the sport comes before the gender. "Chelsea Ladies FC" will now be known as "Chelsea Football Club Women," and honestly, having a club as large and successful as Chelsea change the name of their women's team feels pretty monumental.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the club said the move was "representative of a modern view on language and equality" and an effort to acknowledge "the ever-growing status of women’s football, and Chelsea within it."
"Chelsea Ladies will now be known as Chelsea Football Club Women as the club continues to work on improving all aspects of the team both on and off the pitch. The new name reflects Chelsea’s position as a leading club within the sport. It is representative of a modern view on language and equality, and is in keeping with the way our governing bodies, supporters, squad, and management regard the women’s game."
It's not the only nod to gender equality the club is making — they will also be dropping all references to the men's team as the "first" team.
While it might seem a small change, it's actually pretty ground-breaking. Interest in women's football is on the rise, with the 2018 FA Cup final, which Chelsea won, shown on primetime TV for the first time this year. It came after the Guardian reported 4 million people tuned in to watch England play the Netherlands in the European Championship Semi-Finals. But while attitudes to the sport appear to finally be getting a much needed overhaul, the language used to describe it can still feel tired and outdated.
"Ladies" might seem like just a polite term for women, but it implies ladylike behaviour, so in other words, contains coded instructions about how women should behave. As per the Collins dictionary: "If you say that a woman is a lady, you mean that she behaves in a polite, dignified, and graceful way". Whereas, "woman" is defined in more neutral terms as "an adult human female." It seems right to me that when we talk about women playing sport, we should do so without any implicit suggestions of how they should behave while doing it.
And it appears manager of the Chelsea women's squad Emma Hayes would agree. "This name change demonstrates the club's desire to put women's football at the front and centre of everything we do," she said. "Chelsea's commitment to the women's game is unwavering and this decision is something I fully support."
And she's not the only member of the women's club pleased by the news. Striker Fran Kirby told the Evening Standard that the change reflects the way team members speak.
"Ladies does come across as quite old-fashioned. I think people are moving on from those terms. A lot of the girls in the team are passionate about equality and how we can speak differently compared to how we spoke a few years ago. It was quite frowned upon that a lady played football or did a sport. But we work so hard every day on the pitch so we feel we should be respected as the athletes and the strong, powerful women that we are.”
While the name change is an important step towards gender equality in the world of football, there's still work to be done. Kirby admitted to the Evening Standard that she'd like to see the men’s team renamed Chelsea Football Club Men, but conceded: “We can’t expect to go from zero to 100 — everything needs to be built at a small pace.”
Something that isn't building at a small pace is the success of the women's team, who took home two trophies last season — the FA Cup at Wembley and a Women's Super League title. They also reached the Champions League semi-final, and aim to go all the way next year.
The team has celebrated its successful season and its brand new name with a Dazed Digital photoshoot, which also features young players from the the Girls Football Development Centre, who will no doubt go on to lift trophies for the club in the future.