How do you describe a person that is unafraid to question authority with a positive connotation? I feel that 'rebel' has too much of a negative connotation for the context that I'm using it in, and iconoclast doesn't fit too well.

I need it to be a one word noun, as in:

At heart, I am a ____.

  • Speaks truth to power.
    – Dan Bron
    Nov 29, 2017 at 14:09
  • That is the message that I'm going for, but I need it to be a one word noun, as in: "At heart, I am a ____".
    – Andi Gu
    Nov 29, 2017 at 14:14
  • 1
    Eh, maybe an iconoclast. I doubt you’ll find a single noun that is purely positive; any such nouns are likely to have negative glosses as well. By try using *iconoclast as the root to your thesaurus search.
    – Dan Bron
    Nov 29, 2017 at 14:16
  • 1
    Perhaps maverick - MW gives one definition as "an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party", which might just fit here. Of course, the word only has a positive connotation if you're not the authority being questioned or defied, which is why this is only a "might just fit".
    – Spratty
    Nov 29, 2017 at 14:52
  • Normally I would say critical thinker. One of my children went to an alternative school that trained the students to be critical thinkers. But that's two words. Dec 1, 2017 at 2:19

1 Answer 1


The 'positive' word that came to mind is freethinker which I found defined as

a person who forms opinions on the basis of reason, independent of authority or tradition [...]

at http://www.dictionary.com/browse/freethinker

Collins Dictionary gives a very similar definition:


"Independent of authority" is the part that fits your case.

Free thinking has historically been considered a defiance of authority in itself because the independence of the mind is the first step towards other forms of independence. Moreover a freethinker encourages others (who come into contact with him) to reject 'received wisdom' and think critically for themselves, which is considered a direct challenge to traditional forms of authority.

At heart, I am a freethinker.

(Oh yes I am, even though I don't go and deliberately challenge anybody's authority!)

Note: the exhaustive list of synonyms of 'rebel' at http://www.thesaurus.com/browse/rebel does not seem to contain a single word whose meaning is commonly understood in a 'positive sense.' That tells you that society does not like a person or group that questions authority. In the context of armed resistance or revolution I have heard it said that

One man's rebel is another man's freedom-fighter.

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