Upon search, I found out that sideburns has evolved from burnsides, named after the Civil War veteran and Rhode Island senator Ambrose Burnside. See here

But surely sideburns existed before him, so what where they called then? Simply beard on cheeks/sides of face?

  • 2
    The OED's first reference is 1876 - but Burnside is mentioned in the etymology. Previous appellations listed are "side whiskers" and "side hair".
    – WS2
    Jun 23, 2019 at 20:27
  • 1
    @WS2 As you have access to better sources than I do, could you post an answer; I will certainly up-vote it. Jun 23, 2019 at 21:13
  • This piece from BBC News gives a lot of info on the history: bbc.com/ideas/videos/a-hairy-history-of-sideburns/…
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 26, 2019 at 12:08

3 Answers 3


The style shown in your link was called...

mutton-chop beard


mutton-chop whiskers

Mutton chop beards are so named because they resemble a piece of chopped mutton, particular when shaped correctly. They’re characterized by sideburns that are chopped, or cut, along with the lower jawline and extend to the chin.

This only refers to the luxuriant type of facial hair style as pictured in your link. It is still in use today.

The phrase seems to go back to approximately 1845, according to N grams.

However, some probably just referred to them as


enter image description here

Notice that in the descriptions in Prints of English Heads, "whiskers" is listed separately from styles of beards.

…Black Cap, Hair, Whiskers, peaked Beard, Band…

In the next transcript, from the The Conspiracy Trial for the Murder of the President: And the ..., Volume 2

enter image description here

Q: Do you think he has a mustache only, or a mustache and side-whiskers?

A: I cannot undertake to say that were any side-whiskers...

So it appears that what we call side-burns now was originally called either side-whiskers,or mutton-chop whiskers (also mutton-chop beard) , depending on the style. What I found confusing in the search was that "whiskers" was also used to describe a mustache.

Beards have come and gone in a variety of styles for men, but the "sideburn" was probably only seen after 1800, and then only as part of a beard.

  • Walker's pronouncing dictionary (1828) says "hair growing on the cheek unshaven; the mustachio." So whiskers seems to have meant non-chin facial hair. (Unless mustachio meant sideburns, which I doubt.) Jun 23, 2019 at 20:56
  • @PeterShor gotta look it up, but just before we lost service here I was looking at a portrait of King Charles, in which he was described as "having two pencil-line whiskers"...an obvious reference to his mustache. I'm on the point of trashing this post, or radically revamping it. Jun 23, 2019 at 21:04
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    Don't trash it; revise it. Two names for them were side whiskers and mutton-chop whiskers. See Google Ngrams. Jun 23, 2019 at 22:10
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    There are references in google books to "side whiskers" dating from 1853, although the frequency of occurrences increases in the 1860s and 70s. google.com/… Jun 24, 2019 at 8:55
  • Thank you @PhilMJones for the link Jun 24, 2019 at 22:34

The OED confirms BURNSIDE as a precursor to sideburns.

‘A style of beard such as that affected by General Burnside (1824–81), consisting of a mustache, whiskers, and a clean-shaven chin’ ( Cent. Dict. Suppl. 1909). Frequently plural. Also attributive. Cf. sideburn n. 1875 Cincinnati Enquirer 6 July 2/1 His whisker was of the Burnside type, consisting of mustache and ‘muttonchop’, the chin being perfectly clean.

1881 I. M. Rittenhouse Jrnl. in Maud (1939) i. 36

The older one has lovely burn-sides.

1907 Outing 50 279 Such

various patterns of ornamental whiskers as the ‘Piccadilly Weeper’ (No. 2), the ‘Burnside’, etc.

1930 Publishers' Weekly 8 Feb. 679

In the days of copper-toed boots and burnsides..our grandfathers were buying this book.

Sideburns Etymology:

Apparently an alteration of Burnside n., after side-whisker n. at side n.1 Compounds 3, side hair n. at side n.1 Compounds 1c(b), etc.

orig. U.S. Thesaurus » Categories »

A strip of facial hair grown by a man down each side of his face in front of the ears. Usually in plural. 1876 People (Indianapolis) 8 Apr. 2/4 Norris and Warner want to be fashionable. They are cultivating side-burns.

1887 Chicago Jrnl. 1 Aug. McGarigle has

his mustache and small sideburns still on.

1936 G. Greene Journey

without Maps ii. iv. 197 He was..handsome in his native robe and his sideburns.

1985 Times 31 Jan. 13/5 The world will not be won or

lost on the fall of a fringe or the length of a sideburn. 2004 T. C. Boyle Inner Circle ii. iv. 298 The manager was a very proper-looking character with swept-back hair, silvered sideburns and the trace of an Italian accent.

The text in bold above - re "side-whiskers" and "side-hair" answer the question.

  • 3
    @Cascabel The answer is "side-whiskers" and/or "side hair". "Whiskers" can refer to any facial hair. My own grandfather's moustache, when I knew him in the 1940s/50s, was referred to, by an older generation as his "whiskers".
    – WS2
    Jun 23, 2019 at 22:07

If I'm not mistaken, long side-whiskers were also known as "dundrearies" (the term seems to be early 20th century at latest).

  • 4
    Yes, but Lord Dundreary is a character from the 1858 British play Our American Cousin by Tom Taylor, which is around the same time frame as Senator Burnside. Jun 24, 2019 at 11:08

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