Etymology, spelling, and grammar
Portrait of Young Woman with Unicorn (Lady with unicorn) (1506) by Raffaello Sanzio depicts a young woman with blonde hair
The word blond is first attested in English in 1481 and derives from Old French blund, blont meaning “a colour midway between golden andlight chestnut”. It gradually eclipses the native term fair, of same meaning, from Old English fæġer, to become the general term for “light complexioned”. The French (and thus also the English) word blond has two possible origins. Some linguists say it comes from Medieval Latinblundus, meaning yellow, from Old Frankish *blund which would relate it to Old English blonden-feax meaning grey-haired, fromblondan/blandan meaning to mix. Also, Old English beblonden meant dyed as ancient Germanic warriors were noted for dying their hair. However, other linguists who favor a Latin origin for the word say that Medieval Latin blundus was a vulgar pronunciation of Latin flavus, also meaning yellow. Most authorities, especially French, attest the Frankish origin. The word was reintroduced into English in the 17th century from French, and was for some time considered French; in French, “blonde” is a feminine adjective; it describes a woman with blond hair. “Blond” is an adjective that refers to the hair itself. A man can have blond hair but he is rarely a “blonde”.
Writers of English either use the spellings interchangeably or continue to distinguish between the masculine blond and the feminineblonde; and, as such, it is one of the few adjectives in English with separate masculine and feminine forms, at least in written language. Each of the two forms, however, is pronounced the same way. American Heritage’s Book of English Usage propounds that this particular use of the term is an example of a “sexist stereotype [in] that women are primarily defined by their physical characteristics.” Another hair color word of French origin, brunet(te), also functions in the same way in orthodox English.
The word is also occasionally used, with either spelling, to refer to objects that have a color reminiscent of fair hair. Examples include pale wood and lager beer.
From the German for flax or hemp touw , the expression tow head literally means someone flaxen haired. Other variations are towhead or toe head, the latter being a misspelling that does not relate to the word origin.
Many sub-categories of blond hair have also been defined to describe someone with blond hair more accurately. Common examples include the following:
- blond/flaxen – when distinguished from other varieties, “blond” by itself refers to a light but not whitish blond with no traces of red, gold, or brown. This color is often described as “flaxen”.
- yellow – yellow-blond (“yellow” can also be used to refer to hair which has been dyed yellow).
- platinum blond or towheaded – whitish-blond; almost all platinum blonds are children. “Platinum blond” is often used to describe dyed hair, while “towheaded” generally refers to natural hair color.
- sandy blond – greyish-hazel or cream-colored blond.
- golden blond – a darker to rich, golden blond.
- strawberry blond , Venetian blond or Honey blond– a light or dark reddish golden blond.
- dirty blond or dishwater blond – dark blond with flecks of golden blond
- ash-blond – pale or grayish blond.
- bleached blond or peroxide blond – artificial blond slightly less white than platinum blond.
Evolution of blond hair
A portrait of Isabella I of Castile, here depicted with fair hair. The fair hair was brought into the Castilian royal family by the English princess Catherine of Lancaster, Isabella’s grandmother.
Natural lighter hair colors occur most often in Europe and less frequently in other areas. In northern European populations, the occurrence of blonde hair is very frequent. The hair color gene MC1R has at least seven variants in Europe giving the continent a wide range of hair and eye shades. Based on recent genetic information carried out at three Japanese universities, the date of the genetic mutation that resulted in blonde hair in Europe has been isolated to about 11,000 years ago during the last ice age.
The consensus explanation for the evolution of light hair is related to the requirement for vitamin D synthesis and northern Europe’s seasonal deficiency of sunlight. Lighter skin is due to a low concentration in pigmentation, thus allowing more sunlight to trigger the production of vitamin D. In this way, high frequencies of light hair in northern latitudes are a result of the light skin adaptation to lower levels of sunlight, which reduces the prevalence of rickets caused by vitamin D deficiency. The darker pigmentation at higher latitudes in certain ethnic groups such as the Inuit is explained by a greater proportion of seafood in their diet. As seafood is high in vitamin D, vitamin D deficiency would not create a selective pressure for lighter pigmentation in that population. However, the relatively recent immigration of the Inuit from more southern climates, into their current areas of occupation (c. 10,000 BC) coinciding with the withdrawal of the North American ice sheets may provide a better explanation.
Another theory is that early men found blonde hair more attractive. Canadian anthropologist Peter Frost, under the aegis of University of St Andrews, published a study in March 2006 in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior that says blond hair evolved very quickly at the end of the last ice age by means of sexual selection. According to the study, the appearance of blonde hair and blue eyes in some northern European women made them stand out from their rivals at a time of fierce competition for males made scarce due to long, arduous hunting trips; this hypothesis argues that women with blonde hair posed an alternative that helped them mate and thus increased the number of blonds.
Another reason men may have preferred blonde women is that light hair color is a marker of youth. Since many Northern European children have blonde hair, which darkens as they mature, blonde hair could arguably be associated with youth and therefore, fertility.
A theory propounded in The History and Geography of Human Genes (1994), says blonde hair became predominant Northern Europe beginning about 3,000 BC, in the area now known as Lithuania, among the recently arrived Proto-Indo-European settlers (according to the Kurgan Hypothesis), and the trait spread quickly through sexual selection into Scandinavia. As above, the theory assumes that men found women with blonde hair more attractive.
Geographical distribution of light hair inEurope: yellow represents 80%, light orange is 50-79%, light brown is 20-49%, dark brown is 1-19%, black represents no presence.
Blond hair is most frequently found among the indigenous peoples of Northern Europe. The pigmentation of both hair and eyes is lightest around the south of the Baltic Sea and their darkness increases regularly and almost concentrically around this region. Strawberry blond is a much rarer type containing the most amounts of pheomelanin and only thought to be native in Celtic and Scandinavian countries. Because of emigration and invasion from northern Europe, there are a number of blonds in Southern Europe, Western Europe, and Eastern Europe. Due tomigration from Europe from the 16th to the 20th centuries, blonds are also found all around the world such as in North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Siberia, etc.
Generally, blond hair in Europeans is associated with lighter eye color (gray, blue, green, and hazel) and light (sometimes freckled) skin tone. Strong sunlight also lightens hair of any pigmentation, to varying degrees, and causes many blond people to freckle, especially during childhood.
A young Kalash boy who has blond hair.
In Central, Western Asia (Middle East) and South Asia, there is also a low frequency of natural blonds found among some ethnic populations. In Afghanistan, blonds are particularly found among the Tajik (10% blond, especially in the Pamir region) and Nuristani people (related to the Kalash) who have a blond hair frequency of one in three.[dubious – discuss] In Pakistan the Kalash tribe mostly have blond hair. Blonde hair colour can naturally occur even among other people from Northern part of Pakistan and India which includes Kashmiris, Pashtuns, Shina people and Burusho and descendants of European colonists (the latter found in Goa, Pondicherry). Some nomadic tribes in Rajasthan also have occurrences of blond hair.
Kurdish children in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, 2 of them are naturally blonds.
Blonds are also found in Turkey (especially in northern (Caucasus) and western (European) parts of the country), and in parts of northern Iran, especially in the Caspian provinces. The Levant Israel (especially among the Ashkenazi, who have some European admixture), western Syria, the Palestinian territories, Jordan andLebanon have a frequency of blonds as well. Blond hair is also a common site among Berbers of North Africa, especially in the Rif and Kabyle region. Emigration and invasion from North Africa to Southern Europe (especially Spain and Portugal) added the number of natural blonds in that region. Some Berber Guanchepopulations, particularly the now extinct aboriginal population of Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands, were said by 14th century Spanish explorers to exhibit blond hair and blue eyes. Because of emigration from Canary Islands, a number of blonds are seen in Spain and in Isleño Spanish populations of Cuba, Louisiana, Texas,Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Uruguay, and Argentina.
Aboriginal Australians, especially in the west-central parts of the continent, have a high frequency of natural blond-to-brown hair, with as many as 90-100% of children having blond hair in some areas. The trait among Indigenous Australians is primarily associated with children and women and the hair turns more often to a darker brown color, rather than black, as they age. Blondness is also found in some other parts of the South Pacific such as the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and Fiji. Again there are higher incidences in children but here many adults too carry this indigenous blond mutation. Blondness was also reported amongIndigenous peoples in South America known as Cloud People. There can be blond hair among Peruvian mestizos of mixed Cloud People and Spanish and/or other European descent.
Relation to age
A Finnish girl with blond hair.
Blond hair is most common in Caucasian infants and children, so much so that the term “baby blond” is often used for very light colored hair. Babies may be born with blond hair even among groups where adults rarely have blond hair, although such natal hair usually falls out quickly. Blond hair tends to turn darker with age, and many children’s blond hair turns light, medium, or dark brown / brown or black before or during their adultyears.
Culture, folklore, and mythology
In Norse mythology, the goddess Sif (wife of Thor) is described as blonde. In the Poetic Edda poem Rígsþula, the blonde man Jarl is considered to be the ancestor of the dominant warrior class. In Northern European folklore, fairies value blonde hair in humans. Blonde babies are more likely to be stolen and replaced with changelings, and young blonde women are more likely to be lured away to the land of the fairies.
St. Michael the Archangel’s defeat of Satan by Guido Reni,Santa Maria della Concezionechurch, Rome, 1636
In European fairy tales, blonde hair was commonly ascribed to the heroes and heroines. This may occur in the text, as in Madame d’Aulnoy’s La Belle aux cheveux d’or or The Story of Pretty Goldilocks (The Beauty with Golden Hair), or in illustrations depicting the scenes. One notable exception is Snow White who, because of her mother’s wish for a child “as red as blood, as white as snow, as black as ebony,” has dark hair. This tendency appears also in more formal literature; in Greek mythology, Aphrodite, is the goddess of love and beauty and also had “golden hair” (e.g. according to an Oxyrhynchus Papyri attributed to Ibycus, Hesiod’s Theogony, and also centuries later in Coluthus’ “Rape of Helen”). InMiguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, the ideal beauty is Dulcinea whose “hairs are gold”; in Milton’s poem Paradise Lost the noble and innocent Adam and Eve have “golden tresses”, the protagonist-womaniser in Guy de Maupassant’s novel Bel Ami who “recalled the hero of the popular romances” has “slightly reddish chestnut blond hair”, while near the end of J. R. R. Tolkien’s work The Lord of the Rings, the especially favourable year following the War of the Ring was signified in the Shire by an exceptional number of blonde-haired children.
In the early-mid 20th century, Nordicists such as Madison Grant and Alfred Rosenberg associated blonde hair with a Nordic race, which they distinguished from a larger Aryan race that included what they called the non-blonde Alpine race. During World War II, blonde hair was one of the traits used by Nazis to select Slavic children for Germanization.
Detail of the “bikini girls” mosaic at Villa Romana del Casale
In contemporary popular culture, it is often stereotyped that men find blonde women more attractive than women with other hair colors. Alfred Hitchcock preferred to cast blonde women for major roles in his films as he believed that the audience would suspect them the least, hence the term “Hitchcock blonde”. Blonde jokes are a class of derogatory jokes based on a “dumb blonde” stereotype of blonde women being unintelligent, sexually promiscuous, or both. In other parts of modern culture, blonde women are often portrayed as “promiscuous”, leading to the stereotype that blondes “have more fun.” Jean Harlow (a natural strawberry blonde and later artificially ash blonde) and Marilyn Monroe (pale blonde as a child though her hair darkened to auburn) were notable bleached blonde sex iconsof 20th century America, frequently portraying the stereotypical dumb blonde in their films.
Loki cuts the hair of the goddess Sif in an illustration (1920) by Willy Pogany
According to Francis Owens Roman literary records describe a very large number of well known Roman historical personalities as blonde. In addition, 250 individuals are recorded to have had the name Flavius, meaning blonde, and there are many named Rufus and Rutilius, meaning red hairedand reddish haired respectively. The following Roman gods are said to have had blonde hair; Amor,Apollo, Aurora, Bacchus, Ceres, Diana, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Minerva and Venus.
The physical appearance of Emperor Nero, descended from an aristocratic family, is by the historianSuetonius described as: “… his hair light blond,… his eyes blue…”
In Arab world and Iran, women in the upper classes dye their hair blond as an ideal of beauty. Nada El-Yassir comments that “in certain areas in the Arab world; the lighter you are, the more beautiful you are considered.”