In recent years lolitas in Japan have decided to change the spelling of their name from ロリータ (pronounced roriita) to ロリィタ (pronounced roryita). At the time of writing this post, “lolita” in English spelling is still used by those in the scene in Japan, and as well as communities globally. In this post I want to share a resource created by Alice Karasuma to explain this change. In order to help those unfamiliar with Japanese quickly parse this post, I am going to use the romaji “roryita” to refer to lolita fashion. Hopefully, this helps English-speakers see the difference that Japanese speakers do. Elsewhere on this website I use “lolita fashion” in reference to the English term.
The key motivation for the spelling change was to differentiate their alternative culture from other communities who use “roriita” for fetish purposes, as well as from Vladmir Nabakov’s 1955 novel, Lolita (translated into Japanese 1959). “Lolita” as a loan word has many uses in Japan, and so changes in spelling like this is one way for lolitas to carve out their own space free of the male gaze. To this group, “roryita” means “frilly French girl” and is not meant to signal a wish to roleplay Dolores. This spelling change is similar to “lose” and “loose” in English; they’re two discrete words.
Alice Karasuma, is a VTuber and an active member of the lolita fashion community online. She regularly produces informational content for both members and the general public. To help explain the name change, she produced a video titled “Roriita (ロリータ ) and roryita (ロリィタ) are different” November 2021. In this post I provide a summary of the video’s contents in English.
Alice begins by explaining that if you spell lolita using roriita (ロリータ ) to refer to roryita (ロリィタ) fashion, you will run into issues . Her goal is to explain why, and how these two words now hold different meanings.
The first part of the video sets up why roriita (ロリータ) is not a good word for roryita fashion practitioners to use. Primarily, the issue is that “roriita” is how Dolores’ nickname “Lolita” is spelt in Japanese. A summary of Nabakov’s books premise is offered, and the OP describes it as a “perverse romance”. Alice frames all women in the novel as as “lolitas” (his sister, the childhood flame, Dolores and the mother). She also explains the story of Sally Horner the real child-victim who we believe Lolita is based on. She goes on to explain the “lolita complex” as per Russell Trainer’s (1966) book of the same title (translated into Japanse in 1969). From there she explains the fetish connections of this word.
In the next section, Alice explains what roryita (ロリィタ) fashion is. This fashion originated from kawaii fashion of the 70s and 80s in Japan, as seen in magazines like Olive and CUTiE and in designers like Milk. The image of this fashion for your people was that of a “French school girl”, and this is what “lolita” meant. Alice explains, that at the time, the term “lolita fashion” (roriitafasshon; ロリータ ファッション) was introduced to denote this style. Many well known texts like the Gothic Lolita Bible magazine (2001-2017) and the film Kamikaze Girls (2004) popularised this term. Alice uses Google Analytics to find that there was a large increase in searches for “roriitafasshon”. Because it is spelt as a whole word like this, for the longest time this was considered a point of differentiation from “roriita” and its related contents.
Up until the early 2000s, all communication about the fashion was done via print media (books, magazines, zines) it was kept seperate from the content about Nabakov’s book and Trainer’s Lolita Complex). But as the fashion began to trend, many roryita fashion practitioners moved from the streets to online spaces in blogs, boards and forums. This is when the trouble starts. As roryita fashion practitioners typed “roriita” into Google, they would get unwanted and upsetting search returns. They began to think of other ways to spell their name, like “ロリヰタ” which is believed to come from the Visual Kei scene.
Alice explains that today, the spellings used by roryita are:
- roryita ロリィタ
- roryita fasshon ロリィタファッション
- roriitafasshon ロリータ ファッション
In the case of “roriitafasshon” as it is all one word, it can be differentiated from “roriita”.
In the comments section of this video, Alice also offers some interesting responses.
One commenter suggests that Nabakov’s book is actually a “romance” because it tells the story of a pure love of a melancholy protagonist. They tell Alice they should read the book at least once. Alice replies that she has read the book and is not comfortable with the novel. She wants to keep using this new spelling so each group can be separated.
Another commenter who identifies as a lover of roryita says that they didn’t realise what roriita was and is embarassed to only learn this now.
To another commentor who thanks Alice, she says that she’s afraid of “strange accidents happening” so she was motivated to make this video.
For many roryita this is the first time someone has explained Nabakov’s book to them, though many will know of the roriita complex. Alice provides a clear overview for her audience. There are further nuances as to where “lolita” came from for this community, including manga and the punk music scene, which I will discuss in other posts.
Isaac Gagne’s 2007 article “Urban Princesses” also covers aspects of this spelling issue for those interested.
Looking at responses to this video on Twitter, roryita and other interested members of the public are curious to know why international practitioners continue to use “lolita” and haven’t changed the spelling of their name yet.
At the time of this post, lolitas internationally use this spelling as “lolita” in English still appears on many products and websites from the scene in Japan. They don’t want to change the name to something different, as they worry that this could be culturally appropriative, by severing links to the Japanese creatives. Some practitioners do also use the “roryita ロリィタ” tags, as well as other phrasings like “EGL fashion” (Elegant Gothic Lolita fashion). I think there could be scope to modify the spelling to “lollyta” or similar, as this is both kawaii and sounds phonetically closer to the Japanese “roryita” but its up to the community to decide for themselves.