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Headcanon is an idea, belief or aspect of a character’s personality or physicality that is present in a piece of fanwork that does not correspond with information present in the canonical material. Fans and fanfiction authors will often write with these aspects of their headcanon in mind. In certain cases, specific aspects of headcanon can evolve into fanon, which is a specific fandom belief is accepted to the point where it becomes widely accepted concept in the fandom, sometimes escalating to be embraced by canon work.
In fiction, canon refers to the conceptual material accepted the work is based on, being the overall set of storyline, premises, settings, and characters offered by the source work, and the specific incidents, relationships, or story arcs that take place within the overall canon. The term dates back to Ronald Knox’s 1911 essay “Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes” to distinguish Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle from those penned by fans of the character. The term “headcanon” has been used to describe fan-given traits since as early as July 2007, when a LiveJournal fanfiction author used the term to describe her interpretation of the mother of Gwen from the animated sci-fi franchise Ben 10.
Fanon, a portmanteau of fan and canon, has been used to describe commonly accepted traits stemming from fan works within a specific fandom since as early as 2000. One of the earliest archived mentions of fanon was posted on the alt.startrek.creative Usenet group on March 9th, 2000 when a member asked if the notion that Vulcans discovered humans came from a fan work prior to its appearance in the 1996 film Star Trek: First Contact. In 2003, similar fanon questions were asked on alt.tv.x-files.creative (shown below) and alt.tv.buffy-v-slayer.creative.
While headcanons are mostly only accepted as plausible by a small group of people and are almost never never regarded as canonical, ideas that are considered fanon may receive enough attention or popularity that they become influential or widely accepted within the fandom. Some examples of fanon include the identity of James Potter’s parents in the Harry Potter fandom, Lyra’s obsessions with humans in the Brony fandom, and depicting Cecil Baldwin of Welcome to Night Vale with a third eye.
In September 2007, a survey about headcanon circulated around LiveJournal, encouraging users to discuss their personal ideas from any fandom. In 2008, LiveJournal users continued to discuss headcanons in the fandoms of the anime series Baccano! and manga series Saiyuki. By 2009, headcanons had expanded outside of LiveJournal, appearing in a discussion of Axis Powers Hetalia on the My Anime List forum. Later that year, the 2007 LiveJournal survey meme was shared on the Fantasmic Dreams message boards, asking posters to share ten of their headcanons about Disney characters.
In April 2010, the LiveJournal community headcanonftw was created to share theories from different fandoms. That year, headcanon discussion took place within a number of different fandoms including Homestuck, Neon Genesis Evangelion and Harry Potter. On Tumblr, there are a number of tags to discuss headcanons, including “!headcanon”, “headcanon” and “head canon”. “Headcanon accepted” is also used to relate the onset of a new idea or acceptance of someone else’s, often paired with a reaction GIF.
Since January 2011, Tumblr users have shared their headcanons with other members of the fandom in community blogs. These submission-based pages can often take the format of text-based confession blogs or the image macros created by Just Little Things-inspired sites. One of the first of these blogs, Headcanon Gallery, was created on January 24th 2012 and dedicated to sharing edited photos of couples people shipped from different fandoms. Since then, dozens of these blogs have been created for a number of different fandoms including Hetalia (shown below, left), Harry Potter (shown below, center) and Dangan Ronpa (shown below, right).
Google Groups Archive – alt.tv.x-files.creative: Xmas with the Scullys: fanon or canon?
LiveJournal – inthecenterfold: Headcanon for Sha Gojyo of Saiyuki
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