What do you call a person who started something that is later followed by everyone? For example, someone started to stay late at night till 8 p.m. and later everyone started to stay till 8 p.m..


14 Answers 14


A trend-setter or trendsetter:

someone who starts a trend, or makes one more popular

The other answers on this page have a couple other fine suggestions — and a thesaurus lookup turns up more suggestions still —, but be aware that some of them require additional quali­fication. For example, it's typically "a harbinger of something", or "a precursor to something". So you won't be able to just say "he is a harbinger" and leave it at that; likewise, "he is a pre­cursor" will only raise questions if no further context is supplied. "He is a trendsetter", on the other hand, is perfectly self-explanatory and self-sufficient.


Pioneer is the word for that, but in this particular example, it may not be a good fit. Pioneer carries a positive emotion, and I would not use it for something perceived as negative (like staying late at work).

  • 2
    Pioneer is some who does it first, but not necessarily someone who is then followed. Eg the Wright brothers pioneered aviation, but not many of us fly (pilot) aircraft
    – Bohemian
    Commented Jan 15, 2013 at 14:15

I also rather like forerunner for someone who starts a trend — sometimes even harbinger or herald, depending.

The thing about harbinger and herald is that those portend (or augur) something upcoming if not imminent, while a forerunner is just ahead of his time.

  • 5
    harbinger ... of DOOM! (sorry, couldn't resist.. )
    – Macke
    Commented Jan 15, 2013 at 6:48

My first answer was a trailblazer.

Noun A person who makes a new track through wild country. A pioneer; an innovator.

  • I think trailblazer would only be being used sarcastically in this context, though. It implies a positive effect rather than staying late at work, which implies negative.
    – Nick
    Commented Jan 15, 2013 at 11:24

Maybe also initiator could fit?

one who initiates


Bellwether. Quoting from Wikipedia:

A bellwether is any entity in a given arena that serves to create or influence trends or to presage future happenings.

The term is derived from the Middle English bellewether and refers to the practice of placing a bell around the neck of a castrated ram (a wether) leading his flock of sheep. The movements of the flock could be noted by hearing the bell before the flock was in sight.

  • I have never heard a bellwether used in the context of a person. The modern usage with which I am familiar is when describing the long bond, which is the 30-year maturity U.S. Treasury bond. The T-bond, or 10 year T-note are bellwether securities. If you know of another use, applicable to a person, I would be very curious for details. Bellwether is a great word. Commented Jan 15, 2013 at 5:05
  • This is specifically the sense in which Connie Willis uses the word in her book Bellwether: a habitual, effortless trendsetter.
    – librik
    Commented Jan 15, 2013 at 7:59
  • I'm still searching, can only find bellwether as a trend indicator, or bellwether stocks, or in the context of a news information source. Dictionary definitions say "entity" or "person" but I can't find examples of such. Commented Jan 15, 2013 at 7:59
  • @librik No, I don't think so. I checked several blurbs for Bellwether, as well as the article precis in Wikipedia. The novel involves scientists experimenting with sheep as bellwethers for deriving a forecasting methodology, applicable to human behavior. According to plot summaries of the book, human beings are bellwethers only in the sense that fads are started by a person or persons in the crowd, who without conscious intent or realization, happen to be a little ahead of the rest. Commented Jan 15, 2013 at 8:08
  • OK, if you haven't read the book, you won't know the punchline: there is one wacky young woman who, just following her own inclinations, ends up as the leading edge for all the fads in the story. If Pippa's doing it now, everyone else will be doing it soon. She's the Bellwether of the title.
    – librik
    Commented Jan 15, 2013 at 8:16

I felt the need to float "Innovator" given editor's suggestion of "early adopter", mostly to make clear that, within frameworks for understanding adoption rates, innovators are generally considered to be the first to adopt the innovation and are themselves followed by the early adopters. Innovators cast the die or blaze the trail, and early adopters may or may not follow. There's a media-related term (particularly in advertising/marketing/PR) "opinion leader" which is used as part of the theoretical construct for how new innovations spread. It may also be useful in this case for explaining the idea that people who aren't directly involved in the act of innovating are perceived as a more-reliable (i.e., impartial) bellwether by the average eventual adopter.


You could also, depending on your style and context, use the word precursor:

a person, animal, or thing that goes before and indicates the approach of someone or something else; harbinger

Two example sentences related to original poster's request:

  • When I saw everybody's eyes on Jeremy as he glided across the hall in those "heelies" things, I knew he was the precursor to a new fad.
  • Janette is the precursor to the new trend at the office to wear silly pins on casual Fridays.
  • Welcome to ELU! It would be helpful if you could edit your answer to include a definition from a dictionary that fits the OP's word request. Any examples of your word in a quote would be welcome also. Commented Jan 15, 2013 at 5:25
  • I like precursor as a choice! I think of it primarily in the context of chemistry though. As @KristinaLopez said, it would be great to have a definition, and if possible, an example of precursor used in context as part of your answer. Commented Jan 15, 2013 at 7:55
  • @FeralOink Precursors also occur in literature and movies and the likes.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 15, 2013 at 11:59

Instigator might be appropriate in some contexts, if it's clear that others are now involved.

a person who brings about or initiates something


Avant-garde. From Wikipedia,

Avant-garde ([...] from French, “advance guard” or “vanguard[1]) is a French term used in English as a noun or adjective to refer to people or works that are experimental or innovative, particularly with respect to art, culture, and politics.

Avant-garde represents a pushing of the boundaries of what is accepted as the norm or the status quo, primarily in the cultural realm…

The last sentence suggests that the behavior of the avant-garde is eventually followed by at least some people.

  • I have to admit I find this works better as an adjective than as a substantive.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 15, 2013 at 12:00

I would call them a progenitor.


In some contexts, pathfinder would be appropriate, but not generally.


Flag bearer will be an apt term.


I would call them an initiator. According to the OED:

initiator |ɪˈnɪʃɪeɪtə| a person or thing that initiates someone or something.

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