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Where Does the Term ‘Ginger’ Come From?

We decided to get our teeth stuck into some full-on investigative research to find out where the term ‘ginger’ comes from when referring to someone with red hair.

Redhead ginger term

So, to settle the score once and for all:

Where does the term ‘Ginger’ come from?

First, let’s start with a definition. Not necessarily official, but here is the Urban Dictionary’s definition of ‘Gingers’:

A human, characterized by pale skin, freckles and bright red hair.
‘Gingers’ are generally considered to be inferior to their more
melanin-rich brethren, and thus deservingly discriminated against.
Gingers are thought to have no souls. The condition, “gingervitis” is
genetic and incurable.

That’s what we’re working with. Yeah, I know.

A lot of speculation has simply put the ‘Ginger’ nickname down to ginger root, used in cooking to give it a bit of a kick. Some think this is because redheads tend to have a fiery temper and can pack a punch (not always literally). But, we think this can’t be the sole reason why we’re called ‘Gingers’, if at all.

Another theory is that those with red hair are called ‘Gingers’ thanks to ginger-flavoured food, which tend to show an auburn, reddish tinge: ginger cake, gingerbread, and ginger snaps.

American TV has also been cited as an influencing factor towards Gingers’ nickname. Sixties sitcom Gilligan’s Island followed two single attractive females: Mary Ann and Ginger. Ginger, of course, had red hair and pale skin, while Mary Ann donned a brunette mop.

Throughout the series, viewers continually debated who was more attractive, Mary Ann or Ginger? Which basically translated to, “Are brunettes or gingers more attractive?” (We know the answer to that one)

But, others still believe that the ‘Ginger’ nickname originated far earlier than the 1960s. In fact, we’ve heard that ‘Ginger’ could be older than a hundred years old, with late 18th century references to prove this.

During this time and throughout the 19th century, Britain occupied parts of Malaysia, home to the Red Ginger plant.

Red ginger flower against natural background

Beautifully bright as a beacon, this fiery-headed plant caught the attention of many visitors to the country, and has been cited as one of the first instances of redheads being called ‘Gingers’.

What’s the truth? Have you any information that points to a more conclusive reason why redheads are called gingers? Let us know!

By Emma

READ: The Ancient History of Redheads and Ginger Hair
READ: Ginger Dictionary – Definitions of Ginger Terms & Redhead Nicknames