Rather than physical walls, pop culture cliques are divided by figurative ones, such as class, race, or coolness (or lack thereof), or else are bound by a single purpose or a socially forbidden love. But they all have one thing in common: nifty names. Here are 15 of the coolest clique names in pop culture.
1. & 2. THE SHARKS AND THE JETS
The Sharks and the Jets of West Side Story are more street gangs than cliques—that is, if street gangs sang and danced—and are split by ethnicity: the Sharks are Puerto Rican, a booming population in the 1950s, when the musical and film are set, and the Jets are white. They were also inspired by real-life street gangs that went by such names as the Vampires, the Jokers, and the Dragons.
3. & 4. SOCS AND GREASERS
S.E. Hinton introduced us to the Socs and Greasers in her 1967 novel, The Outsiders, and we got to know them again in the 1983 movie as well as short-lived 1990 TV series (in which a very young Jay Ferguson, best known as Stan on Mad Men, played Ponyboy).
Soc (pronounced Sosh with a long "o") is short for social, perhaps with the idea that rich kids engage in a lot of social activities or else are part of high society. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), greaser originated in early 1960s California in reference to long-haired youths who drag-race, wear grease in their hair, and smoke marijuana. Hinton uses greaser to also mean a poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks.
5. & 6. THE T-BIRDS AND PINK LADIES
Grease is the word, and the T-Birds and Pink Ladies are the cliques with the most. While greasers are undesirable in The Outsiders, the greasy T-Birds are the ultimate cool. T-Bird is short for "Thunderbird," probably referring to the Ford Thunderbird, a popular car model in the 1950s.
The pink-jacketed Pink Ladies are the T-Birds' female counterparts and sometime girlfriends. The phrase pink lady has a few different meanings: a cocktail made with gin, egg white, and grenadine; a female hospital volunteer; and a barbiturate.
7. THE BRAT PACK
While not technically a high school clique, the members of this Hollywood posse played high schoolers well beyond their teenage years. Famously coined in a 1985 New York Magazine article, Brat Pack refers to a group of actors—Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, and Judd Nelson among them—who appeared, often together, in a string of coming-of-age films including The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo’s Fire, and The Outsiders.
The term is a play on Rat Pack, an old Hollywood clique which claimed such members as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. In general a rat pack is a gang of disorderly young 'uns.
8. THE HEATHERS
This circle of powerful, popular mean girls are all named Heather, save for the rebellious Veronica. The name Heather was popular, too—at least in the 1970s. Its popularity dropped after the mid-1980s, which is right around the time the film Heathers came out.
As for Veronica, last name Sawyer: she and her childhood friend, the non-popular Betty Finn, were named for Betty and Veronica in the Archie comics, as well as for Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
9. THE PLASTICS
Another set of popular Mean Girls, the Plastics are “teen royalty” (alpha Plastic Regina literally means “queen” in Latin), and like their name, they're cold, shiny, and hard. Plastic is also slang for a credit card, a symbol of materialism and excess.
The Mathletes—a blend of math and athlete—are the nerds of the Mean Girls universe, competing for fun in mathematics competitions. (Freaks and Geeks has Mathletes, too.) The word mathlete is older than you might think, originating in the early 1930s.
11. THE PUFFS
At the already exclusive Chilton Prep School, the Puffs are an ultra-exclusive secret sorority that attempts to recruit bookish Rory Gilmore, although she wants nothing to do with them.
The name Puff may come from the idea of a puff pastry, which is light, airy, and sweet, or else puff meaning "hot air," vanity, and pride.
12. THE DEAD POETS SOCIETY
A better fit for Rory would have been the Dead Poets Society, an unofficial club that met in caves to read poetry and seize the day. Screenwriter Tom Schulman based the film on his experiences at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, and teacher John Keating (Robin Williams) on his own teacher, Samuel Pickering. After Robin Williams’s death, Jimmy Fallon paid tribute to the actor/comedian with a nod to the “O Captain! My Captain!” scene from the film.
13. THE PERSIAN MAFIA
“And that's the Persian Mafia,” Cher tells newbie Tai in Clueless. “You can't hang with them unless you own a BMW.” The Persian Mafia are rich kids of Iranian descent, much like those depicted in the reality series The Shahs of Sunset.
14. THE SCOOBIES
The Scoobies, short for Scooby Gang, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer are named for the Scooby-Doo cartoon, in which Scooby and “those meddling kids” solve mysteries mostly involving grouchy men in various monster costumes. Buffy’s Scoobies solve mysteries involving monsters, too. But in their case, the monsters are real.
The word scooby is Scots rhyming slang for “a clue,” as in, “No one’s got a scooby (doo).”
15. THE GREENDALE SEVEN
By season three of Community, the Study Group has had enough. They're forced to attend summer school, Shirley’s sandwich business has gone under due to a takeover from Subway, and on top of all that, Starburns is dead. At his funeral, they instigate a riot—hence their new nickname, the Greendale Seven.
Greendale Seven is a nod to the Chicago Seven, political radicals accused of inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention, as well as the Seattle Seven, the leaders of the Seattle Liberation Front, who protested the convictions of the Chicago Seven.