All my life I have known people with reddish, orangey hair, to be termed ginger haired.

Just as you don't call a blonde a 'yellow head' red head just wasn't a word that was said (wouldn't orange head be more accurate for most anyway?).

However these days I increasingly find people using the term 'red head'. At first it seems to have been a term restricted to magazines with attractive ginger models, as if the media couldn't admit that attractive gingers exist, but it has slowly spread to the general population and these days I often hear it.

My guess is that that redhead is an old term that then fell out of use with the (then) more exotic ginger taking its place, and that in modern times with ginger no longer being an exotic food and anti-ginger stuff in culture redhead has somehow re-emerged.

Is there any truth to my guess? What is the actual history of the terms redhead/ginger?

When did ginger come into use? Why did redhead fall so out of use in favour of ginger? Has redhead always been used in a fashion context or is its re-emergence totally out of the blue?

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    Corollary: english.stackexchange.com/questions/75678/…
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 12:48
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    Just for alternate perspective, as an AmE speaker, I had never heard the term 'ginger' for hair color until recently. Your entire question would work for me if you interchanged 'redhead' and 'ginger'.
    – Mitch
    Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 15:33
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    @Mitch Yes, exactly right. Ginger sounds like some exotic foreign import, and using it as a metonym for a redhead is even more exotic still. To me, ginger is a blonde color. The icky pink stuff they give you at Japanese restaurants has been dyed to an unnatural color using beet juice and such.
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 16:00
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    @tchrist how unusual. I'm literally totally the opposite. :D Ginger to me has always been ginger coloured; from gingerbread men, ginger ale, ginger snaps and the like. It wasn't until I went to Japan and went to a sushi shop for the first time that I encountered white/blonde coloured ginger.
    – Craig
    Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 16:28
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    I've hardly ever heard "ginger hair" but have heard "redhead" since I was a kid. Ngram shows "red hair" and "redhead" greatly outpacing "ginger hair". Lucille Ball was one of the best-known "redheads" of the past 100 years, though apparently her hair was dyed that color.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 12:35

6 Answers 6


The hair-color called red, ginger, orange, etc.

According to the citations provided by the OED for the hair-color sense of ginger, it first came into use during the 19th century. Using red for a hair-color is many centuries older, almost six of them in fact depending on how you count things.

That makes ginger a newcomer compared with calling a person with “red” hair a red-head, a red head, or a redhead (which are all the same word: spelling doesn’t count). There were also adjectives red-headed and red-haired of similarly ancient pedigree.

Those all date from centuries before ginger was ever used as a hair-color — and indeed, from centuries before orange was used as a color for anything at all, as explained in the second section below.

Using ginger for a hair-color is comparatively recent; it was (initially) consigned to dialectal use according to the OED2:

B. adj. dial. Of hair: Having the colour of ginger. Of a person: Sandy-haired. Of a cock: Having red plumage.

  • A. 1825 Forby Voc. E. Anglia, ― Ginger, of a pale red colour, particularly applied to hair.
  • 1834 T. Medwin Angler in Wales I. 35, ― I perceive a fine red or ginger game-cock in the yard.
  • 1886 Chesh. Gloss., ― Ginger, sandy-haired. ‘He’s a bit ginger.’
  • 1897 Daily News 10 Sept. 2/6 ― Complexion and hair brown, moustache ginger.

I take that to indicate that it first appeared in dialects spoken in East Anglia and Cheshire. It is not clear when it invaded the rest of the Isle of Britain. However, Google N-Grams provides some hints regarding the timing of that invasion.

Ginger hair versus redhead in British English

Ginger hair versus redhead in British English

Ginger hair versus redhead in American English

Ginger hair versus redhead in American English

As you see, ginger hair is surpassingly rare in America. And there is a good reason for that.

Because the dialect dictionaries cited by the OED all take place in the 19th century, this all happened after the war between Britain and its American colonies.

This explains why ginger never caught on as something to call redheads in America; we simply kept the original term and didn’t follow British fashion-color trending.

Moreover, it doesn’t seem to have escaped from mere dialectal use until the 20th century, which is at even further remove from that separation.

Red hair has always been red hair — for certain values of “red”

Here’s a graph for British English charting all three of red hair, redhead, and ginger hair:

chart of red hair, redhead, and ginger hair

That shows that hair has always been red in British English, and that as a hair color, ginger is quite new. It also shows red hair being much more common than ginger hair.

The problem with that comparison is that it is not really possible to get uses of ginger to mean red hair or a redhead when used as a metonym for a person with red hair without that use also mentioning hair. You get all kinds of false positives like from a ginger curry or a ginger cookie.

Ginger hair vs. redhead vs red-head vs red-headed in British English

To included hyphenation in the results, here is a Google N-gram of ginger hair, redhead, red-head, red-headed in British English:

Google N-gram plotting ginger hair, redhead, red-head, red-headed

I don’t know how to merge the graphs for the last graph’s three red-related terms to compare it against the ginger line, so one might aim to do that in one’s own head as a thought-experiment.

British Trickle-Invasion

In America, pretty much nobody had ever heard of calling a person “a ginger” before the “Ginger Kids” episode of South Park in 2005, less than a decade ago. I would also bet that the majority remain unfamiliar with the term — or for that matter, with the very bigotry which that episode lampooned. (But I may be wrong.)

It is nearly impossible to understand why redheads are ever persecuted, such things having no place whatsoever in civilized society. But apparently the practice either continued or has once again raised its ugly head, especially in certain area in the world. Wikipedia notes in its article on Red hair that “In various times and cultures, red hair has been prized, feared, and ridiculed.”

This is alien to my personal experience. When I was a child in primary school in Wisconsin, we had many red-haired kids in the class, almost all of whose ancestors were originally from Scandinavia or the British Isles (or in my own case, both), and I do not once remember any child been persecuted for their hair-color. I even have a brother whose hair as a child went through what one could call a “strawberry blond” phase and to this day can still sport a barbarossa when it pleases him to do so, and I do not recall him ever once being abused for his hair-color. I do think I would have known, too, given that we are not unalike in age.

“Orange is the New Red”

As for why the red that occurs in redhead isn’t red but orange, that is because English did not yet have a distinct word for the color orange at the time we started calling people redheads.

We didn’t start using orange as the name of a color until the 16th century, and even then it took a spell before it really caught on. Human redheads antedate that use by several centuries.

What we now call “orange” was at that time merely a shade of red, one which had no name of its own — although scarlet is closer, as we see in Robin Hood’s legendary pal Will Scarlet, who was so named because, at least in certain traditions, he was a redhead. Scarlet is “a bright red with a slightly orange tinge” according to Wikipedia, and according to the OED, “a brilliant vivid red colour, inclining to orange”. So scarlet was as close to orange as they could come in those days.

Speaking of robins, this strange matchup occurs also with robin redbreast, whose breast is what we now call orange, not red. Here is a longer list of around thirty different critters all with “reddish” names but who would quite likely be considered “orange” were they named today:

As you may have suspected from the primate entries at the end of that list, our own good cousins, the orangutangs, are also known for having “red” hair. In fact, they are sometimes even called the red ape. From the Wikipedia article on the Sumatran Orangutang:

Compared to the Bornean species, Sumatran orangutans are thinner and have longer faces; their hair is longer with a paler red color.

But they of course are not the only red ape. Their “red” hair is the same kind of “red” that their fellow great apes, we humans — including Neanderthal humans — can also have. It’s just that orangutangs are always red-haired, while modern humans only sometimes are so.

(The apparent “orange” part of the word orangutang is a red herring if ever there was one. It’s actually from a Malay word meaning man. It does not refer to hair-color at all. See also Orang Pendec, a putative cryptid of Indonesia sometimes described an “orange ape that walks like a man”.)

Whatever you care to call all those many critters’ colors, it is hardly “red” in the narrowest of senses. It is always some shade of what we would now call “orange” or perhaps “reddish brown”. If you are into “fashion colors”, you will sometimes see metallic colors like copper, bronze, and brass used for that color, too, usually with decreasing red components and more yellow ones according to the order given.

In the curious case of the Red Indians of the Americas, their skin can hardly be called true red either, but such was the fashion of the time to use that color-name for hues that include their native skin-color.

Just how many reds are there?

The OED has this usage note under its entry for the color red:

The precise shades of colour to which the name of red is applied vary from bright scarlet or crimson to reddish yellow or brown (the latter esp. of the hair of certain animals). The numerous varieties are distinguished, when necessary, by prefixed nouns or adjectives, as blood-, brick-, cherry-, fire-, flame-, flesh-, robin-, rose-red; dark, dull, light, lively red; fiery, foxy red; brown-, orange-, yellow-red; brownish, yellowish red, etc.

If you think about flames, which are often described as “red”, they are actually orange except in pyrotechnic displays. The OED lists well over a hundred different hues with red components in their definitions. These are not compound (hyphenated) words with red in them, either. Sometimes the meaning of a color changes over time, too, so the purple of yesteryear might well be the red of today, or vice versa.

If you ask someone to name a “red(dish)” color that doesn’t have red as part of its actual name, some of the more common responses include scarlet (1250), crimson (1440), mahogany (1737), maroon (1840), vermilion (1296), and burgundy (1881). The year listed in parentheses following each word is the year of the first OED citation for that word being used as a color-word in English — not the first year the word was used for anything whatever.

Interestingly, not only is bright scarlet the color most clearly on the “orangey” side of the reds, it is also both the most ancient and also the most common of that set historically and currently, beating out even the darker crimson in this Google N-Gram:

Google N-Gram plotting scarlet, crimson, mahogany, maroon, vermilion, burgundy

But English has a great many more red-related colors both today and historically, and some that were once thought red would now be thought of as orange.

Many of these “other” “red” colors take their names from material objects in our world, such as gemstones, fruits, woods, and flowers. Some hues are reserved only for certain things, such as for use in heraldic arms, for human hair color, or even for the hair-color of a horse. Others are mere “fashion” colors, or one-time imports that have since faded from popularity.

Examples of color-names in the OED that it says have, or can have, or did once-upon-a-time have, reddish aspects include the following brief list:

aeruginous, almond, amarant, amber, amethyst, apple, apricot, aurantia, aurora, bay, blood, blush, bracken, brass, brick, bronze, brusk, burgundy, camellia, capucine, cardinal, carmine, carnadine, carnation, carroty, cerise, chaudron, Chelidonian, cherry, chestnut, cinnabar, claret, cochineal, copper, coquelicot, coral, coralline, cornelian, crimson, cuprite, cyclamen, damask, English, ensanguined, envermeil, envermeiled, fallow, ferruginous, flame, flamingo, flammulated, fuchsia, fulvous, garnet, geranium, grenat, gridelin, gules, guly, haematic, hazel, hematic, hepaticous, honeysuckle, hyacinth, incarnadine, jacinth, jacinthine, Jacqueminot, jasper, lac, lake, lateritious, lavender, lilac, luteous, magenta, magnolia, mahogany, maiden’s blush, mandarin, mandarine, manganese, marmalade, maroon, melon, menald, miniaceous, miniate, miniatous, minious, moorit, mordoré, mulberry, nacarat, ocher, ochre, œil de perdrix, orange, orchid, paprika, peach, persimmon, piceous, picescent, pink, pomegranate, pompadour, ponceau, poppy, prune, puniceous, purple, purpureal, purpureous, purpurine, pyrope, raspberry, red, roan, rose, roseate, rosewood, rosiny, rosy, rouge, rubicund, rubrical, ruby, rud, ruddy, rufescent, rufous, russet, rust, rusty, saffron, salmon, sandy, sanguine, sanguinolent, sard, scarlet, shrimp, Siena, Sienna, sinoper, sloe, sorrel, spadiceous, spinel, stammel, strawberry, tangerine, tango, tawny, teak, tea rose, tenné, tenny, terra cotta, terra rosa, testaceous, Titian, tony, tourmaline, tuly, vermeil, vermilion, vinaceous, vinous, and violet.

I did include such things as pink, magenta, purple, and violet there, because just what those colors meant varied over time. Even today you will find disagreement about whether violet tends more towards blue and purple towards red, or even vice versa. But properly speaking, violet is a true spectral color from the rainbow, one of shorter wavelength and higher energy than blue, whereas all the purples, including pink and magenta and such, are non-spectral admixtures of pure spectral frequencies of blue (or lower) light blended with red light. In other words, violet has a place in Iris’s rainbow or Newton’s prism, but purple does not.

If you count hyphenated color-names that include red as part of their names, these too number in the triple digits, with the OED attesting all of these:

Adonis-red, Adrianople-red, auburn-red, blackish-red, blood-red, brick-red, bright-red, brownish-red, brown-red, camellia-red, carmine-red, cherry-red, chestnut-red, chocolate-red, cinnabar-red, cinnamon-red, cochineal-red, Congo-red, copper-red, coral-red, crimson-red, dark-red, deep-red, Dekkan-red, dull-red, dun-red, flame-red, flesh-red, fox-red, foxy-red, fuchsia-red, garnet-red, geranium-red, ginger-red, golden-red, gold-red, hyacinth-red, ibis-red, Indian-red, indigo-red, iron-red, Kino-red, lake-red, leaf-red, Levant-red, light-red, livid-red, lobster-red, madder-red, magenta-red, mahogany-red, maroon-red, mauve-red, methyl-red, Modena-red, mulberry-red, nasturtium-red, ochre-red, onion-red, orange-red, orangey-red, ouer-red, oxidation-red, Paris-red, peach-red, pinky-red, pomegranate-red, poppy-red, porphyry-red, pseudo-red, pudding-red, purple-red, purplish-red, red-and-orange, reddish-blue, reddish-green, reddish-orange, reddish-purple, reddish-violet, reddish-yellow, red-orange, red-purple, red-yellow, ripe-red, robin-red, rose-red, rosie-red, rosy-red, ruby-red, rud-red, rust-red, rusty-red, saddle-red, salmon-red, sand-red, sandy-red, scarlet-red, semi-red, shell-red, sherry-red, siena-red, signal-red, silver-red, smoke-red, soot-red, sooty-red, sound-red, strawberry-red, sunny-red, sun-red, sunset-red, tango-red, tanned-red, tawny-red, technicolor-red, thunder-red, tile-red, tomato-red, Turkey-red, Venetian-red, vermilion-red, vinaceous-red, violet-red, wax-red, white-red, whitish-red, wine-red, yellowish-red, yellow-red, and yellow-to-red.

As noted in comments, it’s interesting that both reddish-yellow and yellowish-red occur historically. I imagine that those two would both probably be called simply orange today.

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    @Craig Asking multiple questions in one posting is not a good idea, because it makes it difficult to choose a best answer, since there are multiple questions with multiple answers, and one answer might answer one of several questions asked better while another might answer a different one of those several questions better.
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 13:07
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    Redhead was usually hyphenated prior to about 1900, and the hyphen was pretty much gone by 1960 or so. Proportionally, that is; we do seem to have developed a bit of an obsession for classifying humans by hair colour since the late 19th/early 20th century (using X is a Y rather than X has Y-coloured hair).
    – bye
    Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 19:19
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    @J.R. No, it’s because there was no such color as “orange” back in the mid 13th century when red-head was first used for a person having “red” hair. Sure, you could have called them a carrot-top or carrot-pated, but carrots were also considered “red”: “If I had said your head was Red, I had not been such a Liar neither; it was direct Carrot.” 1671 Joseph Glanville, in A further discovery of M. Stubbe in a brief reply to his last pamphlet against Jos. Glanvill. Later centuries would see carrot beards and carrot curls.
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 19:57
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    @tchrist - I wasn't referring so much to the term's origin as I was to its popularity. I mean, there's no reason it couldn't have shifted to orangehead once orange became a color.
    – J.R.
    Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 22:11
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    @J.R. Oh, I see. I wonder whether anything else that we used to call red got switched over to orange. I also wonder whether we don’t have Newton to “thank” for popularizing orange as a color distinct from red. He needed seven colors for silly mystical reasons, and seems to have plucked orange and indigo “just ’cause”. Then again, his blue skies were our cyan skies and our blue jeans would be his indigo jeans, so who knows? Color-names are culturally relative, or so it is said.
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 22:21

Etymonline, otherwise known as Etymology Online Dictionary, has this to say on the origins of red, and redhead.


(adj.1) Old English read "red," from Proto-Germanic rauthaz (cognates: Old Norse rauðr, Danish rød, Old Saxon rod, Old Frisian rad, Middle Dutch root, Dutch rood, German rot, Gothic rauþs). As a noun from mid-13c.

The Germanic words are from PIE root *reudh- "red, ruddy" (cognates: Latin ruber, also dialectal rufus "light red," mostly of hair; Greek erythros;... The only color for which a definite common PIE root word has been found. The initial -e- in the Greek word is because Greek tends to avoid beginning words with -r-.


mid-13c., from red (adj.1) + head (n.). Red (adj.), of persons, "having red hair" is from late Old English.

   The Carrot pate be sure you hate, for she'l be true to no man,
    But put her too 't and she will do 't, and oft turns very common:
    She that is red upon the head will doubtless ne'r forsake it,
    But wanton be, assuredly, and willingly will take it.
    ["The True Lover's Admonition," Roxburghe Ballads, c.1680]

There's no doubt that the term, red hair, has been used to describe all the different shades of red that possibly exist. The word redhead has been in use since at least 1510, and it is estimated that the country with the largest population of redheads; or red haired people, is Scotland with 13% closely followed by Ireland with 10% whilst in the United States it is estimated that only 2-6% of the population is red headed, roughly six to eighteen million people. All of which may well explain why ginger, as a hair colour, and as a derogatory term, is largely restricted to the British Isles.

In fact, according to Google Books Ngram Viewer the terms; ginger hair, ginger haired, and (a) ginger meaning a "red haired person", is virtually unknown in the US.

enter image description here

It wasn't until 2001 when the first Harry Potter film was released that many Americans became even aware that ginger was a hair colour. Furthermore, many were astonished to discover that the term ginger was used to mock, ridicule and tease redheads in the United Kingdom.

As one American testifies,

Undoubtedly, the term gained traction in the U.S. with the popularity of the Harry Potter books. According to the Harry Potter Wiki, “Scabior, Fenrir Greyback, and a drunk man on Tottenham Court Road” all referred to Harry Potter’s famously ginger-haired mate Ron Weasely by this term. [...] Ginger prejudice arrived in the U.S. in 2005 with an episode of the animated comedy series “South Park” entitled “Ginger Kids.” In the episode, a satire on racial and other sorts of prejudice, “Cartman rallies all other ginger kids to rise up and assume their role as the master race” (in the words of the series website). As is often the case with satire, there were unintended consequences. A 14-year-old Vancouver boy started a Facebook group devoted to “National Kick a Ginger Day”; it attracted almost 5,000 members, and the founder was eventually investigated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for possible hate crimes.

Britishism.wordpressposted: May 19, 2011

However, in the United Kingdom, ginger has long been used to describe people whose hair is anything between a bright-copper colour and a yellowish-brown shade, but it is a false assumption to believe that the term was in use before redhead.

enter image description here

The data displayed in Google Ngrams below, suggests that the expression ginger hair, in the British Isles, only saw the light of day in the mid-1800s.

enter image description here

Why did "ginger" become an insult?

A (very) brief history

People with red hair were regarded with suspicion and mistrust in medieval England. The redder the hair the more people invented disturbing stories of witchcraft and Satanism. This scorn can be traced back to Judas Iscariot, the twelfth disciple who betrayed Jesus with a kiss. It was common belief that the man "responsible" for Jesus' death was a redhead. Some scholars have proposed that the name Judas is derived from an Aramaic word meaning "red color" as an explanation for this, but there are many conflicting theories as to its origins. It is nonetheless true that European Christians associated redheads with Jews and with dishonesty. Shakespeare's plays in Elizabethan England, egged on by the queen herself, helped not only to perpetuate this prejudice but to strengthen it further.

The conviction that red haired ("ginger") people were basically untrustworthy, highly-sexed and to be feared continued unabated, political correctness was almost four hundred years away, and irrational superstitions and prejudice were allowed to roam free. In order to appreciate how deeply ingrained gingerism was, we only need to read the following extract taken from The Tragedy of Bussy D'Ambois (1603–1607) a Jacobean stage play written by George Chapman.

enter image description here

It is worth mentioning that according to the playwright and folklore at the time, the perfect poison had to include the fat of a red-haired man. Theophilus Presbyter (1070–1125), a Benedictine monk, claimed that the blood of a red-haired young man was necessary to create gold from copper, in a mixture with the ashes of a basilisk.

In his Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, (1785), Francis Grose, a lexicographer, noted that the slang terms, pate, stood for head, while ginger, we are told, was a term given to cocks/roosters. The combination of these two slang words led to the expressions ginger-pated and ginger-hackled. A hackle is defined by the American Webster's Dictionary (1913 + 1828) as

  1. One of the peculiar, long, narrow feathers on the neck of fowls, most noticeable on the cock, -- often used in making artificial flies; hence, any feather so used.

Note that Grose defined both terms using red-haired, proving once again that ginger, the hair colour, was a relatively new term.

It's easy to see how the slur "ginger-pated", i.e. ginger headed, was later shortened to ginger.

As further proof that the colours ginger hair and ginger haired were relatively new in 19th century England, see the Ngrams charts below.

The term, hackle, meaning the bright red feathers of a cock/roster was much more in vogue, only to be overtaken by the expression ginger cock circa 1885.

enter image description here

If we eliminate the terms ginger hackle and ginger cock, include the term redhead and set the dateline from 1840 to 1930 we have the following surprising results.

enter image description here

As you can see the term, redhead in England is older than ginger hair and ginger haired but sometime around 1912 the colour ginger hair begins to overtake the more jaded expression, redhead.

Other offensive terms for red-haired people in 18th century England were: carroty-pated; sandy pate; and poisoned pate (see Chapman's excerpt above). Furthermore, Grose provides an example of the types of jeers red-haired people had to put up with:

Hip, [hey] Michael, your head's on fire!

Nevertheless, there are other terms which have been used in the past (and nowadays) to describe people's shades of red hair. They are the following:


enter image description here


late Middle English: from Old French auborne, alborne, from Latin alburnus 'whitish', from albus 'white'. The original sense was 'yellowish white', but the word became associated with brown because in the 16th and 17th centuries it was often written abrune or abroun.

It came to English meaning "yellowish-white, flaxen," but shifted 16c. to "reddish-brown" under influence of Middle English brun "brown," which also changed the spelling.



Middle English: from an Anglo-Norman French variant of Old French rousset, diminutive of rous 'red', from Provençal ros, from Latin russus 'red'.

The first recorded use of russet as a color name in English was in 1562. The name of the color derives from russet, a coarse cloth made of wool and dyed with woad and madder to give it a subdued grey or reddish-brown shade. By the statute of 1363, poor English people were required to wear russet.

Source: Wikipedia


enter image description here

She had copper-coloured hair


Old English copor, coper (related to Dutch koper and German Kupfer), based on late Latin cuprum, from Latin cyprium aes 'Cyprus metal' (so named because Cyprus was the chief source).

The first recorded use of copper as a color name in English was in 1594


adjective (Of hair) bright golden auburn: a mass of Titian curls


early 19th century: from Titian 1, by association with the bright auburn hair portrayed in many of his works.

strawberry blonde

enter image description here

(also strawberry blond)
adjective Denoting hair of a light reddish-blonde colour: strawberry blonde hair
Strawberry blonde is attested from 1884

ginger (haired)

enter image description here

noun and adjective
3.1 [count noun] British informal , chiefly derogatory A red-haired or ginger-haired person.


late Old English gingifer, conflated in Middle English with Old French gingimbre, from medieval Latin gingiber, from Greek zingiberis, from Pali siṅgivera, of Dravidian origin.

orange hair

enter image description here

a bright orange-red colour

Why aren't "gingers" called orangeheads?

As tchrist and Josh6 have already mentioned, a precise term for the color of orange did not exist before the 16th century when its namesake fruit was literally picked to describe this color. The age-old question as to why certain things are called red when their obvious natural colour is orange has caused numerous headaches in modern times.

Until the early 16th c. the color was referred to in Old English as geoluhread or spelt as ġeolurēad, the Middle English form, yelwered, is today's Modern English yellow-red or yellowred.

Geoluhread is similar to the Dutch term, "gul-og-rød" which means "yellow and red". Additionally there is the word Gulerod, which means carrot. Which begs the question why this ubiquitous root vegetable wasn't chosen instead of the fruit, orange, to describe the "yellow-red" colour. It wasn't until the arrival of the Danish orange variety in the early 16th century, that carrots were orange coloured. In fact, the varieties cultivated in the British Isles were up until then; yellow, white and purple. There is also evidence to suggest that the color purple was often mistaken as red before the 16th century.

............................... enter image description here

The modern orange carrot was developed and stabilised by Dutch growers in the 16-17th century, evidenced from variety names and contemporary art works. A tale, probably apocryphal, has it that the orange carrot was bred in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century to honour William of Orange. Though the orange carrot does appear to date from the Netherlands in the sixteenth century, it is unlikely that honouring William of Orange had anything to do with it! The purple carrots being consumed at the same time, not only stained cookware and appeared quite unsightly, they did not taste as good as orange carrots, and so the orange rooted varieties came to dominate the culinary world.

source: The History of The Carrot

Sources:The Top ten Redheads, Judas' red hair and The Jews, 38 Red Hair and Redhead Facts.

All definitions and citations taken from Oxford Dictionaries Online unless otherwise stated

  • Why would someone be mocked for whatever hair-color they should happen to have been born with? This seems . . . odd. I can imagine catching flac for hair dyed electric chartreuse with lavender pigtails, but “teasing” someone for whatever their natural hair-color is is a really bizarre thing outside of my personal comprehension. I’ve been told that children are the cruellest amongst us, but this borders on some unpalatable mélange of evil and stupid and wrong.
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 23:35
  • Oh, and congrats on getting so many (human) hair colors. I hadn’t thought anyone knew Titian any longer. You don’t hear much these days of the tow-headed, the flaxen-haired, or the raven-haired, either. One does encounter them from time to time in literature, though.
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 23:41

People with reddish/orange hair have been called red-heads since the Middle Ages because the colour was like that of a carrot. Orange as a colour was used only later, around 1540.


  • mid-13c., from red (adj.1) + head (n.). Red (adj.), of persons, "having red hair" is from late Old English.

    • The Carrot pate be sure you hate, for she'l be true to no man, But put her too 't and she will do 't, and oft turns very common: She that is red upon the head will doubtless ne'r forsake it, But wanton be, assuredly, and willingly will take it. ["The True Lover's Admonition," Roxburghe Ballads, c.1680]


  • c.1300, of the fruit, from Old French orange, orenge (12c., Modern French orange), from Medieval Latin pomum de orenge, from Italian arancia, originally narancia (Venetian naranza), alteration of Arabic naranj, from Persian narang, from Sanskrit naranga-s "orange tree," of uncertain origin. Not used as a color word until 1540s.

Source: www.Etymonline.com

  • 1
    @tchrist : in the middle ages, carrots weren't typically orange : carrotmuseum.co.uk/history5.html (summary : modern orange carrots weren't bred 'til around 1620 ... however, there's evidence that some existed in Byzantine in 512. I'm not sure when the orange carrot began to dominate the red & yellow cultivars.
    – Joe
    Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 17:54
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    The note about the bizarre historical hostility toward redheads in the British Isles reminded me of a scene in Gulliver's Travels, where Gulliver, living with the superior Houyhnhnms, discusses the hair color of the Yahoos: "It is observed, that the red haired of both sexes are more libidinous and mischievous than the rest, whom yet they much exceed in strength and activity." And when a young female Yahoo assaults Gulliver as he bathes, he remarks "neither was the hair of this brute of a red color (which might have been some excuse for an appetite a little irregular), but black as a sloe."
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 7:37

Redhead is the original term as both the words orange and ginger only entered the language after those products were first imported to Britain.


This does not mention the term 'Redhead' but is information relating to Tacitus': a Roman historian. Here, he indicates that Germans have red hair, although he may have, presumably been speaking in his mother tongue, thus, not using the word 'red.'

All have fierce blue eyes, red hair, huge frames”. ... In particular, Tacitus noted the Caledonians had “red hair and large limbs” which he felt pointed to a “Germanic origin.” All of these red-haired tribes match the genetic makeup of the current inhabitants of the lands they occupied.




Colour "ginger" used to describe red hair may have its origins in Iydish language. Take note of the Hebrew word "jinji" to describe the same red hair.

  • 1
    Some references would be wonderful, and maybe the etymology of the word "jinji"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 11:16
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    Looks like it worked the other way round, jinji is a Hebraization of ginger. Yet in many contemporary Hebrew vernacular and slang words, a soft “g” does exist, represented in writing by the gimmel followed by a small upper slash. Thus, for instance, we have juk, a bug or cockroach; jinji, a redhead (from English “ginger”); jobnik, a soldier with a desk job, etc. forward.com/culture/152220/nudge-nudge-wink-wink
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 11:20

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