I was reading a Wikipedia article on Gentoo Penguin and came across the following Paragraph.

The application of Gentoo to the penguin is unclear. The Oxford English Dictionary notes that Gentoo used to be an Anglo-Indian term used as early as 1638 to distinguish Hindus in India from Muslims. The English term originated from the Portuguese gentio (compare "gentile"); in the 20th century the term came to be regarded as derogatory.

I am particularly interested to know why the Portuguese word gentio from which the English Term Gentoo originated is regarded as derogatory. In the similar context does the same English Term would also be regarded as derogatory similar to the root word?

Context We have named our baby "Gentoo" and now I have realized that the term may be pejorative.

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    Someone with access to the OED will probably soon confirm if the Wikipedia article is accurate or not. In the meantime, according to this site, the penguin was named Gentoo because it is "characterised by a wide white stripe resembling a cap on the top of its head" which was "reminiscent of the headgear worn by the Gentoos of India". Mar 22, 2013 at 19:05
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    Hobson-Jobson (1903) has a long article on the word which gives no evidence of derogatory use (and remarks, moreover, that the word has at the time of publication become obsolete among English speakers). But the most innocent ethnic, national, racial or other corporate designation will become derogatory if the people whom it designates are regarded with contempt by the people who use the term. Mar 22, 2013 at 19:33
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    @Reg, yes, I agree with you both on 5) and 6) points, however there are some words that we can more simply use in derogatory way and others, like "love", that we, yes, can use that way, but only if we are like the demons.
    – user19148
    Mar 22, 2013 at 21:33
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    At least "Gentoo" doesn't have a derogatory word that rhymes with it which is amother favorite pastime of school children. "Gentoo" is unique and beautiful. Pity the Barts, Chucks, Reginas, Garys, Ricks and Pattys of the school yard! :-) Mar 23, 2013 at 12:09
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    @Kristina: Every name, including Gentoo, has a derogatory word that rhymes with it.
    – Hugo
    Mar 25, 2013 at 22:15

3 Answers 3


As far as I came through didn't found portuguese Gentio from which the English Term Gentoo originated to be derogatory but the parent word gentilis from late Latin has some concerns.

Here is a brief etymology of the word Gentoo.

Gentoo [archaic] | Gentoos [plural] First use: 1638 Origin: Portuguese gentio, literally, gentile, from Late Latin gentilis

Gentoo [archaic] Origin: Portuguese gentio, heathen, gentile from Latin gentilis: see "gentile"

Gentoo [sometimes not capital, archaic] | Gentoos [plural] First use: 17th century Origin: from Portuguese gentio pagan (literally: Gentile)

gentoo | gentoo penguin First use: mid 19th century Origin: perhaps from Anglo-Indian Gentoo "a Hindu", from Portuguese gentio "gentile"

gentoo | gentoos [plural] Origin: Of Anglo-Indian origin (17th century), apparently a corrupted form of gentile ("pagan").

Also, do consider this link for usage examples in various media and articles.

Abhijeet as your name suggests, you are from India thereof a personal answer is that though in English and other foreign languages the Gentoo may have different meanings but as far as Indian meaning goes, the word is often used in a combination: jeev-jantu which offcourse would be something which can be teased by naughty fellow mates.

  • @coleopterist Thanks, don't know how i missed something this big.
    – Raghav
    Mar 26, 2013 at 12:58

Gentoo originated from Xanthii (Xandi), a Greek word, which refers to Jat people who migrated from Central Asia to India. Greek historian Strabo used the word Xanthii in the first century BC. Vasco da Gama's travel record used the word Gentoo in 1498. Gentoo later became Hendoo (Hindoo or Hindu) because G or J, when followed by e, is pronounced as H in Portuguese.

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    May 12 at 12:19
  • While this may be so, it doesn't answer whether the word is derogatory.
    – Chenmunka
    May 12 at 13:24

I am particularly interested to know why the Portuguese word gentio from which the English Term Gentoo originated is regarded as derogatory.

In Modern English, "Gentoo" is only ever used of penguins. It has no other use. The word became archaic/obsolete in the late 19th century.

OED has the examples

1883 Zillah darling! Jewess or Moslem, Parsee or Gentoo, Charley O'Sullivan will have you for his bride. London Society November 595/2

2000 In the latter half of the nineteenth century, Durga puja increasingly became associated with the gentoos or babus of Calcutta. Journal Southern African Studies vol. 26 297

I am unaware as to whether penguins find it derogatory.

In the similar context is the same English Term would also be regarded as derogatory similar to the root word?

If you are referring to "gentile", then, no. It is neutral.

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