Usually, when you’re trying to work out the meaning of a word or phrase, you’ll head to the English Oxford Dictionary, but for this one, we’re heading to Urban Dictionary. You better believe it. According to Urban Dictionary, a hen night is “a girl’s night outlaid on for the bride getting married the next day”. While hen parties now tend to take place a few months before the big (except for those in Eastenders), this definition sounds about right.
Hen parties are often said to be a classy version of a stag do but whoever said that has never been a too good one. In reality, a hen party can involve anything from cocktails and chit chat to witnessing someone’s quiet sister be sick all over herself after getting off with the bouncer. Cute. Either way, many countries around the world have their traditions, but all tend to focus on a party given in honour of the bride-to-be, pre-wedding. Good times with your friends: necessity. Strippers and slut drops: optional.
Have you ever wondered what the meaning of hen party is? Why do we call it a hen party or hen do and what does it have to do with poultry?
It hasn’t got much to do with chickens at all, and the origins of the term hen party stem from something quite different.
Table of Contents
- 1 Why is a hen called a hen?
- 2 Is the bride the hen?
- 3 When did hen parties start?
- 4 A history of hen parties
- 5 On nights and bridal showers, what’s the difference?
- 6 How do you plan a hen party?
- 7 Who Uses The Term Hen?
- 8 How long has the term been used?
- 9 Where does the Hen term come from?
- 10 Why is a hen party called a hen party?
Why is a hen called a hen?
The meaning of the term “Hen Party” stems from the fact that the word ‘hen’ hasn’t always meant female chicken, but rather way back in Middle English, a look at the etymology of the word ‘hen’ shows us that it used to be used to refer to the female of any bird, or sometimes the female gender of any species of animal.
Similarly, the word ‘stag’ was used to refer to the male of a species. Therefore it developed to become the word used to refer to a party exclusively for males, just as a hen party came to mean a party exclusively for females.
Meanwhile the phrase ‘hen do’ reportedly dates back to the 1800s, where it was a term used to describe a gathering of women – though originally there was no pre-wedding context.
In America, The Deseret News noted in 1897 that a hen party was a “time-honoured idea that tea and chitchats, smart gossip hats, constitute the necessary adjuncts to these particular gatherings”.
In 1940, politician and activist Eleanor Roosevelt was described as hosting a Christmas time “hen” party for cabinet wives and “ladies of the press”.
Is the bride the hen?
Anyone who is attending a hen party is referred to as a hen, and the entire group is known as ‘the hens’ or ‘the hen party.’ The bride is essentially also a hen, but for clarity is often just referred to as ‘The Bride’ at the actual event.
Other names for a hen party
The terms used for hen and stag parties vary according to location, and there is wide variation even within the English-speaking world.
Take a look at these alternative words for hen and stag parties:
- Australia: Hen and Buck Party
- America: Bachelorette and Bachelor Party.
- South Africa: It is common to hold a party called “The Kitchen Tea”. This involves women gathering for a tea party just before the wedding where they bring gifts destined for the bride-to-be’s new kitchen.
- Canada: There is the “Stag and Doe” party which includes both men and women where the main aim is to help raise funds to pay for the couple’s wedding or honeymoon.
When did hen parties start?
Research indicates that the idea of a celebration or gathering before nuptials goes back much further into history than we might think. As expected, the concept of the stag party occurred first. We know that stag parties were likely taking place in Tudor times already, you can just imagine the kinds of ale-fuelled feasts they had.
Some sources suggest that the idea of a stag party originated even earlier during the 5th Century B.C. with the Spartans being the first to celebrate a man’s last night of freedom.
Spartan soldiers are known to have held dinners where toasts would be made to the groom-to-be. No doubt there were fewer shots than there are nowadays, although perhaps strippers weren’t unheard of.
Hen parties arrived on the scene much later. Pre 19th Century, women might have had a bridal shower where they would hopefully be ‘showered’ with gifts (think more embroidered handkerchiefs than matching “Bride Tribe” bikinis) to prepare them for married life and to provide a dowry.
A history of hen parties
Wherever you go, there’s always a group of women wearing pink sashes, cowboy hats and of course brandishing something penis-related. Yet how did they get so big? (We’re talking about hen dos here!)
Are you ready for a history lesson? Because we’re about to give you one. Hen party roots began years ago, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that popularity began to increase. Experts have put this down to the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
While the phrase ‘hen party’ has been around since the 1800s, it wasn’t until many years later that these words began to have any context. Google’s N-gram tool searches keywords used in millions of books and shows an increase in the use of ‘hen party’ from the 1960s. And, it wasn’t until 1976 that the Times Newspaper first used the phrase ‘hen party’ in a story. But, it was about a badly behaved male stripper. Naughty boy.
The more you look into hen parties, the more it’s obvious this is a new phenomenon. Three million years ago, if you fancied someone, you got down to business and began hunting with them. There were no worries about side chicks or naked pics. So, ultimately marriage was no big deal.
Yet as animals and plants began to gain importance, the ownership of land and women did so too. Women soon became something that could be traded, and marriage was seen as a celebration. However, the hen party tradition that we know and recognise today would still take a few years to come around.
On nights and bridal showers, what’s the difference?
They both celebrate the same thing, but there’s a big difference when it comes to hen nights and bridal showers. While a hen party is big and brash, a hen shower is classy, elegant and PG-rated. A bridal shower is often hosted at the bride’s family house, and games such as ‘Pin the Bouquet on the Bride’ are played while nibbling cupcakes and sipping rose tea (Okay we made the last bit up). Opt for a hen party, and you’ll be slathering baby oil on a stripper and shoving a donna kebab in your gob. Although, here are some classier hen party ideas if that’s what you’re after.
Another difference is cost. All the hens usually pay hen parties. A bridal shower often works out cheaper, and the bride’s family will usually foot the cost. In addition to this, at a hen party, the hen’shen’s are usually given gift bags filled with novelty items. At a bridal shower, guests are expected to bring the bride presents, similar to a baby shower.
How do you plan a hen party?
Planning a hen party can seem daunting, so we’ve put together a step-by-step guide to help you out.
- Speak to the bride. Find out what she wants and whether or not she wants to go abroad. While you probably want to keep the celebrations a surprise, asking these questions will help you out.
- Create an invite list. Again, it’s probably best to work with the bride on this one. You don’t want to see her face drop when she realises her favourite cousin hasn’t been invited.
- Set up a group chat. The simplest way to arrange budgets, dates and activities is to create a group chat. Plus you’ll be able to send all the photos over after the weekend.
- Decide on a location and find accommodation.
- Plan activities. From cocktail making, nude life drawing classes, multi-activity days or a trip to the theatre, it’s important to fill the hen party with fun things to do and see.
- Create a kitty. Often large groups use a kitty when heading away, but it can also be useful when booking things beforehand. Having a joint money pot is not only easier to keep track of who has paid what but will also stop that tight mate from messing around. You know who you are.
- Plan the finer details. Organise hen party games, outfits, party bags and more!
- Send an itinerary out to everyone a week before and don’t forget to have fun!
So, whether you’re the bride-to-be or a hen party planner, hopefully, we’ve answered all your hen party questions. For the ultimate do, why not get in touch or take a look at these top tips for the best hen party preparations.
We have created the ultimate list of Hens Party Ideas for you and the girls to created a day and night she’ll never forget.
Who Uses The Term Hen?
The term hen is a geographic-specific term. While prevalent in the U.K. and countries like Australia, in America the party is known as a Bachelorette, a feminine form of Bachelor. This itself was an old medieval term for a Knight that followed another’s banner. The term hen does or at least did, exist in America, however. It was a term for an all-female gathering before being connected to weddings. There is a mention in 1940 of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt hosting a ‘hen party’ with cabinet wives and ladies of the press.
Now the use of **Hen party is almost exclusively used in the UK**. It can be found in Anglo countries like Australia and New Zealand who kept the term. Their term for a stag is a buck, but they refer to the female version as a hen.
How long has the term been used?
The first time the term was recorded was in America in 1897. The act of a hen party as a concept has only been around since the 19th century. It was not until the social awakening of the 1960s that women started joining in with the men and partying before a wedding. A Google N-Gram study, which is a tool that looks at the word used in books, found that the term ‘hen party’ dramatically increased from 1960 onwards, giving us a timestamp of not only when the word was being used but when hen parties were becoming popular. While hen parties had been mentioned in the past as an all-female party, it was never related to weddings. In the U.K. the first time a mention of the term relating to weddings was in The Times in 1976. In true hen party style, the story was about a male stripper who had to go in front of Leicester Crown Court due to ‘lewd and obscene behaviour’. Something **our partners from Adonis** know about all too well.
To get more hens night ideas, check out our post on Who should pay for hens night?
Where does the Hen term come from?
The term for a hen party can be placed on a few explanations. One of the most obvious connection is that hens refer to a female chicken and the party is exclusively women. Hens also give the image of a group dynamic, with hens often sticking together in the field, like they would **on the streets of Manchester**!
Another explanation is rooted in middle English. Hens were not just the name for a female chicken but were used to describe any birds female side. This seeped into the vocabulary of medieval times. Stags can trace the history back to Tudor times in the text and even back to ancient Greece. The men of Sparta would celebrate the groom to be, with a feast and celebration.
A more interesting theory has more exotic beginnings. In areas of North Africa, the Middle East and Asia there are some traditions which are not involved in our weddings. One of those is the art of painting henna onto the bride to be. It is believed this would be purifying the bride and rid her of any evil. The connection is, therefore, that the henna ceremony becomes a ‘hen night’. This is a beautiful tradition, but ladies over here are more likely to paint themselves with a fake tan than henna.
No matter where the name comes from, it is more pleasing to read about how women finally came round to enjoy themselves before a wedding just as much as the men. Whether it was from medieval England or henna parties of the East, the term hen party has stuck and is here to stay. Well, we hope, so it’s in our name!
Why is a hen party called a hen party?
Nowadays it would be pretty unheard of to get married and not have a hen party or stag do in order to celebrate the final free moments before you tie the knot. Consequently, we’ve heard of some pretty unusual hen party events along the way from perfume creation to go-kart racing! But why is it called a hen party and why is it called a stag party? And where did these parties originate from?
Okay, so here’s the history lesson. A common misconception is that the terms’ hen’ and ‘stag’ both originate from simple social stereotypes. It’s more likely that the word hen hasn’t always meant female chicken, in middle English, the hen could mean the female of any bird, and so a hen party was a party exclusively for ladies. Similarly, but going back even further, is the stag party, and you’ve guessed it, originally stag could mean the male of any animals, not just a male deer and so a stag party is one exclusively for gents.
So it turns out hen party’s aren’t a creation of modern society, and they go pretty far back. Although I bet, they didn’t have such unusual hen party events all that time ag skydiving hens anyone? So where did the terms originate from? The tradition of the stag party goes back even further (sorry Hens) certainly as far as Tudor times. Just imagine how busy Henry VIII must have been with invites!
Numerous sources suggest that the very first stag party was held in the 5th century in Sparta, where a pre-marriage feast was held in order to toast the groom-to-be. On the other hand, hen celebrations have their roots more grounded in North African, Middle Eastern and Asian lifestyle. This is because the authentic phrase from which hens get together is believed to be henna, which is a wedding custom in all these cultures. Henna has significant importance in the East and is considered to have tendencies to be capable of purifying the bride and hold her risk-free from evil.
Here in the U.K., we are somewhat on our own with our abstract names of hen and stag parties to see off the final moments of freedom. Australia is similar, but slight cultural differences mean that they call it to hen party and buck party. Alternatively, America appears to be very vanilla in the naming of their pre-marital parties, calling them a bachelorette party and a stag party respectively.
Whatever your background, there is no escaping the fact that marriage is possibly the most important decision of your life. So what better way to say goodbye to single life than to celebrate in style!