The Collins English Dictionary defines a "debutant" as

"a person who is making a first appearance in a particular capacity, such as a sportsperson playing in a first game for a team"

As the origins of this word lie in the French language, would it be correct to label a female sportsperson making her first appearance as a "debutante"?

Having briefly searched for any occurrences of this usage, all I can find are references to young ladies being introduced at high society events, such as the following on Wikipedia.


Further to GEdgar and oerkelen's explanations it probably makes sense to use gender-neutral language. Some options are:

  • novice
  • rookie
  • newcomer
  • new kid on the block

That said, as far as female sportspeople are concerned, on 15 February 2018 the International Olympics Committee referred to Hannah Oeberg who competed in the Pyeongchang Olympics 2018 as a debutant (important to note no "e" at the end)


Collingwood Women's Football Club tweeted Three different sports, three different debutants on 7 March 2018

For sportsmen, the term "debutant" seems to be ubiquitous according to a cursory google search of "sports debutant"

Just two days ago (08 September 2018), Sky Sports had an article about Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi's family performing the haka for an All Blacks debutant

Yesterday (09 September 2018) beinsports.com posted about Debutant Schulz Scoring Late To Secure 2-1 Win For Germany Over Peru


No. It may be her debut appearance. Or her rookie appearance. But not her debutante appearance.

You are correct that, in English, debutante refers the introduction to high society.


The same source you use for debutant gives only the high-society meaning for debutante.

I would certainly advise against trying to introduce gender-specific words into the English language at this stage, because in many places, the opposite is happening: gender-specific expressions are disappearing, and in some cases, their use is frowned upon.

Especially when the word of your choice has, even today, clear associations to what many consider an old-fashioned, role-pattern imposing woman-degrading habit, you may not get your audience to simply interpret the word as "starting athlete".

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