Why are redheads called ginger

By: | Last Updated: May 2, 2022

It’s nearing World Redhead Day! 

If you didn’t know that specific date, May 26, is designated for the flame-haired folks, now you do. 

And that may be the reason why you are here reading this. With the word “ginger” and “redhead” bouncing around, it’s no wonder you are baffled enough to ask, “why are redheads called ginger?”

On the other hand, you probably didn’t know about this annual event, and this simple question gripped you suddenly and firmly in the middle of the day while shopping for a red dye

Whatever it was, you are now here to understand the subtle difference between the two. You may even decide to join the redhead population — in time for the yearly celebration!

How did redheads get the nickname ginger?

How did redheads get the nickname ginger

Once upon a time, someone looked at a redhead and said, “You know what’s cool? Calling them ginger.” You may read that and suspect it’s a false statement, but who knows? 

The list of conspiracy theories is long and twisted. 

But since you are here for an answer, a little summary of these theories should put your questions to rest. 

The Ginger Root

It may seem anti-climactic, but the probability of ginger (the person) getting linked to ginger (the plant) is high. 

There’s a stereotype among redheads which attributes a fiery temperament to them. You probably used the ginger root to spice up your old recipe. So yes, the connection is there! 

Ginger-flavored food

Ginger root is yellowish, so it may not make sense how redheads are related to them. But you know what also has a reddish tinge? 

Ginger cake, gingerbread, and gingersnaps! Maybe someone out there ate a lot of it and started calling an innocent redheaded bystander a ginger. 

The Character

Ginger, a character from the sixties American tv show Gilligan’s Island, is a girl with pale skin and orange-red hair. TV shows back then are the leading influencers. 

Comparing this theory to the “ginger plant or food theory” is more feasible. 

After all, a sitcom has a broader reach than one random person having an epiphany about gingers and spreading it everywhere.

One more interesting theory makes “ginger” even an older term than you believe. If the 1960s seem too recent, an 18th-century reference surely isn’t. 

A Red Ginger Plant

Unlike the ginger root you envision now, the red ginger plant, also called ostrich plume, is a flowering plant native to Malaysia. 

During British-occupied Malaysia, someone who visited the place made the first link between redheads and this beautiful flower. 

There is an abundance of lore around gingers! 

From political figureheads like Queen Elizabeth I and Winston Churchill to the Italian physicist Galileo, there is no shortage of great redheads within history

However, if you feel any tension coming from your redheaded friend whenever you call her ginger, then it’s not these lores she remembered. 

More likely, it’s the negativity surrounding that word. But where does the bad connotation come from? 

History and a little science may help you understand better.

What does it mean when you call someone ginger?

What does it mean when you call someone ginger

According to Urban Dictionary, gingers are a “legendary race descended from Prometheus, bringer of fire.” 

And while you shouldn’t take that seriously, you can’t also deny that redheads, like fire itself, are linked to fierceness and wildness. So it is a wonder how one can go from a symbol of bravery to an insult. 

First, here is a little science.

When talking about why natural redheads have such distinctive hair, you will always encounter the term MC1R. It stands for melanocortin receptor 1, and it is a protein located at the surface of melanocytes. 

Melanocytes are specialized cells that stimulate melanin production, the substance responsible for your hair, skin, and eye color. 

All proteins in our body, like MC1R, are made using specific instructions provided by our genes. In this case, the MC1R gene is responsible for the job. There are cases in which this gene might have variations. 

In the case of redheads, a genetic variation reduced the MC1R protein’s ability to produce eumelanin— a type of melanin common to people with brown or black hair and skin— and instead gave way to the production of pheomelanin. 

Pheomelanin does not protect the skin from UV radiation as eumelanin does. A redhead’s skin is sensitive to the sun and suffers skin damage if overexposed. 

According to the researchers at Duke University, natural-born redheads may find themselves susceptible to cancer-causing radicals and even an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease, with a 90% risk of neurological disorders. 

And it is also terrible to call out a redhead for being “too sensitive” to pain. Theoretically, they are. They need 20% more anesthesia compared to brunettes and blondes. No thanks, genetic mutation. 

This stark difference in appearance polarized opinions about them. You can find references to bravery and fierceness linked to red hair but also villainy attributes. 

The negative comments about redheads aren’t a new invention of modern social media. It goes way back to the ancient writers.

The classic portrayal includes a warlike, uncivilized, and untrustworthy description. Yes, even your guy, Aristotle, believed redheads to be evil merely because their hair matches a fox’s fur. 

It didn’t stop with the Romans and Greeks. It continued and evolved, in a nastier way, into a form of identifying witches, werewolves, and vampires in the Middle Ages. 

Even the Spanish Inquisition used red hair to single out the Jew among the crowd. 

All of that trickled down to a stereotype of being clownish, weird, temperamental, incapable of being in the sun, and those with intellectual superiority. It even segregates genders into wild women and frail men. 

So when you hurl the term “ginger” at someone, they might instantly have a flashback of all the bullying they had as a child because of their appearance. This might have contributed to low self-esteem. It can even drive someone to harbor a sense of isolation. 

“Ginger”  isn’t merely a slang term for redheads. It evolved into something more divisive and objectifying to some. And for those people who mind the name-calling, this can re-open trauma. 

Their rarity— only one to two percent of the human population— makes them a target of trolling. But for those who do not mind the slang anymore, ginger becomes something they own and take pride in. 

Are redheads and gingers the same thing?

Are redheads and gingers the same thing

To someone who isn’t in the European Union, these two words may seem interchangeable. It looks as simple as separating red from the orange-haired ones. It turns out to be more complicated than that. 

If there’s anything you and everyone should learn these days, it is that ignoring a subtle difference in definition can turn a compliment into something possibly offensive.

Take redheads and gingers, for example. 

Gingers are individuals with red to orangish hair and a fair complexion. Their pale skin and freckles are their distinguishing attributes aside from the hair. Although you may encounter gingers worldwide, Northern and Western Europe have the highest number of redheads globally. 

At first glance, their orange hair— as opposed to red— may look like the only giveaway. And yet, facial features, location, and even temperament come into consideration when labeling someone a ginger. There are more boxes to tick than just your hair. 

Due to these specific conditions, “ginger” is a characteristic you cannot claim or acquire by merely changing hair color. 

That may sound like gatekeeping but hold your horses, Karen because some consider the term a source of hate crime and bullying. 

Ginger prejudice or gingerism is an actual dilemma more prevalent in the UK than anywhere else. There’s no great protest (yet) on turning ginger into the next n-word and demanding everyone to put their PC shoes on. 

Others shrug it off too. And others who would rather embrace the term and make their brand using it. Ed Sheeran, arguably the most famous redhead, named his label Gingerbread Records. 

Perhaps there are too few of them to start with, and they likely live in Europe, so there is no wider awareness. Moreover, the opposing opinions within the redheaded community make it a more arduous battle for those against the slang. 

With that in mind, it may be better to call them a redhead instead of ginger. Do you know what’s even better than that? Calling them by their actual names. (Yes, to growth!)

How about redheads, then?

You often hear the word associated with celebrities like Kendall Jenner and Blackpink’s Jennie, who transformed into redhead icons this summer. 

Even in mainstream media, redheads exude the “main character vibes”. 

Lois Lane, who initially had black hair in the Superman comics, is now one of the most remembered redheads, thanks to Amy Adams. And of course, who can forget about Cheryl Blossom of Riverdale?

But not all of them are natural-born redheads. They transformed into one. 

In other words, everyone can be a redhead! 

Whether you have had them since birth or grabbed a box dye after taking inspiration from WandaVision, it doesn’t matter! From deep burgundy to champagne, as long as it has a reddish hue, you qualify for that term.

All gingers are redheads, but not all redheads are gingers.

That is all you need to remember. 

Now that it’s settled and you know the nuances that come with those two words, you may want to consider it an introduction to being a redhead if you are not one. 

Red is a stunning and head-turning color. And there’s a shade of red for you out there! Get the stereotype that red only suits those with fairer skin out of your head and start skimming the beauty aisle for that perfect red. 

Unsure how to start? Don’t worry. You only have to know your undertone to know what shade you should grab. 

If you have warm undertones, your veins appear more green than blue. You may also look better in gold jewelry, and your skin tone might be golden, tan, or olive. You would suit shades of strawberry, copper, auburn, and vibrant red. 

For those with warm undertones, examples of warm reds include Revlon Colorsilk Bright Auburn and Garnier Nutrisse Vibrant Red Hair Dye. These shades will not wash you out and highlight your glowy tan skin instead. 

You look nicer in pearls and silver if you have a cool undertone. Your veins also look blue, and you are likely to have fair to pale skin. In that case, you should choose the cooler shades of red to compliment your skin. 

Cooler reds like Clairol Nice n Easy Mahogany make an easier transition and can effortlessly be an everyday color. You can also pop out from the crowd with John Frieda in Medium Burgundy and even be a head-turner with Schwarzkopf Permanent in Ultra Violet. Cherry and rose are also shades you want to check out when shopping. 

What are you waiting for? Take the challenge and start your transformation now!

CHECK OUT: How To Make Natural Red Hair Redder

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