The word "blond" is first documented in English in 1481 and derives from Old French blund, blont meaning "a colour midway between golden and light chestnut". It gradually eclipsed the native term "fair", of same meaning, from Old English fæġer, causing "fair" later to become a general term for "light complexioned". This earlier use of "fair" survives in the proper name Fairfax, from Old English fæġer-feahs meaning "blond hair".
The French (and thus also the derived English) word "blond" has two possible origins. Some linguists say it comes from Medieval Latin blundus, meaning "yellow", from Old Frankish blund which would relate it to Old English blonden-feax meaning "grey-haired", from blondan/blandan meaning "to mix" (Cf. blend). Also, Old English beblonden meant "dyed" as ancient Germanic warriors were noted for dyeing their hair. However, 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 blonde hair.
"Blond", with its continued gender-varied usage, is one of few adjectives in written English to retain separate masculine and feminine grammatical genders. Each of the two forms, however, is pronounced identically. American Heritage's Book of English Usage propounds that, insofar as "a blonde" can be used to describe a woman but not a man who is merely said to possess blond(e) hair, the term is an example of a "sexist stereotype [whereby] women are primarily defined by their physical characteristics." The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) records that the phrase "big blond beast" was used in the 20th century to refer specifically to men "of the Nordic type" (that is to say, blond-haired). The OED also records that blond as an adjective is especially used with reference to women, in which case it is likely to be spelt "blonde", citing three Victorian usages of the term. The masculine version is used in the plural, in "blonds of the European race", in a citation from 1833 Penny cyclopedia, which distinguishes genuine blondness as a Caucasian feature distinct from albinism.
By the early 1990s, "blonde moment" or being a "dumb blonde" had come into common parlance to mean "an instance of a person, esp. a woman... being foolish or scatter-brained." Another hair color word of French origin, brunet(te) (from the same Germanic root that gave "brown"), also functions in the same way in orthodox English. The OED gives "brunet" as meaning "dark-complexioned" or a "dark-complexioned person", citing a comparative usage of brunet and blond to Thomas Henry Huxley in saying, "The present contrast of blonds and brunets existed among them". "Brunette" can be used, however, like "blonde", to describe a mixed-gender populace. The OED quotes Grant Allen, "The nation which resulted... being sometimes blonde, sometimes brunette."
"Blond" and "blonde" are also occasionally used to refer to objects that have a color reminiscent of fair hair. For example, the OED records its use in 19th century poetic diction to describe flowers, "a variety of clay ironstone of the coal measures", "the colour of raw silk", a breed of ray, lager beer, and pale wood.
Various subcategories of blond hair have been defined to describe the different shades and sources of the hair color more accurately. Common examples include the following: ash-blond: ashen or grayish blond.
bleached blond, bottle blond, or peroxide blond terms used to refer to artificially colored blond hair.
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".
dirty blond or dishwater blond: dark blond with flecks of golden blond and brown.
golden blond: a darker to rich, golden-yellow blond (found mostly in Northeastern Europe, i.e., Russia, Estonia).
honey blond or caramel blond: dark iridescent blond.
platinum blond or towheaded: whitish-blond; almost all platinum blonds are children, although it is found on people in Northern Europe. "Platinum blond" is often used to describe bleached hair, while "towheaded" generally refers to natural hair color.
sandy blond: grayish-hazel or cream-colored blond.
strawberry blond, Venetian blond.
yellow: yellow-blond ("yellow" can also be used to refer to hair which has been dyed yellow).
Natural lighter hair colors occur most often in Europe and less frequently in other areas. In Northern European populations, the occurrence of blond 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 research carried out at three Japanese universities, the date of the genetic mutation that resulted in blond hair in Europe has been isolated to about 11,000 years ago during the last ice age.
A typical explanation found in the scientific literature for the evolution of light hair is related to the requirement for vitamin D synthesis and northern Europe's seasonal less solar radiation. 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 solar radiation, 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 and by the climate which the Eskimos live in, because in the polar climate there is more ice or snow on the ground, and this reflects the solar radiation on to the skin, making this environment lack the conditions for the person have blond, brown or red hair, light skin and blue, grey or green eyes.
An alternative hypothesis was presented by Canadian anthropologist Peter Frost, who claims blond hair evolved very quickly in a specific area at the end of the last ice age by means of sexual selection. According to Frost, the appearance of blond hair and blue eyes in some northern European women made them stand out from their rivals, and more sexually appealing to men, at a time of fierce competition for scarce males.
Recent archaeological and genetic study published in 2014 found that, seven "Scandinavian hunter-gatherers" found in 7700-year-old Motala archaeological site in southern Sweden had both light skin gene variants, SLC24A5 and SLC45A2, they also had a third gene, HERC2/OCA2, which causes blue eyes and also contribute to lighter skin and blond hair. Genetic research published in 2014 and 2015 also indicates that, Yamnaya Proto-Indo-Europeans who migrated to Europe in Bronze Age were overwhelmingly dark-eyed (brown), dark-haired and had a skin colour that was moderately light, though somewhat darker than that of the average modern European. Light pigmentation traits had already existed in pre-Indo-European Europeans (both farmers and hunter-gatherers) and long-standing philological attempts to correlate them with the arrival of Indo-Europeans from the steppes were misguided.
It is now hypothesized by researchers that blond hair evolved more than once. Published in May 2012 in Science, a study of people from the Solomon Islands in Melanesia found that an amino acid change in TYRP1 produced blonde hair.
Blond hair is most common in light-skinned 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 natural hair usually falls out quickly. Blond hair tends to turn darker with age, and many children's blond hair turns light, medium, dark brown or black before or during their adult years.
As blond hair tends to turn brunette with age, natural blond hair is rare. Natural blond hair is rare in adulthood, with claims of the world's population ranging from 2% naturally blond to 16 percent.
Blond hair is most common in Scandinavia and Baltic Sea countries, where true blondism is believed to have originated. The pigmentation of both hair and eyes is lightest around the Baltic Sea, and darkness increases regularly and almost concentrically around this region with countries such as the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, etc. generally having larger proportions of blond people than countries further south in Europe.
In France, according to a source published 1939, blondism is more common in Normandy, and less common in the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean seacoast; 26% of French population has blond or light brown hair. A 2007 study of French females showed that by then roughly 20% were blonde, although half of these blondes were fully fake. Roughly ten percent of French females are natural blondes, of which 60% bleach their hair to a lighter nuance of blonde.
In Portugal, an average 11% of the population shows traces of blondism, peaking at 14.3–15.1% blondes in Povoa de Varzim in Northern Portugal. In northern Spain, 17% of the population shows traces of blondism, but in southern Spain just 2% of the people are blond. In Italy, according to 20th century geneticist Biasutti, 12% of Italians exhibit various shades of blond, but regional contrasts are pronounced with a greater occurrence in the Northern and Central regions (Veneto, Friuli, Valle d'Aosta and Bolzano), where the figure can reach 15–20%, and a lesser occurrence in the South (average of around 2-7%), with the exception of Benevento and surrounding area where blondism reaches 10–14.9%. The lowest percentage is found in Sardinia, where only 1.7% of the people exhibited blondism.
Blondism is also a common sight among Berbers of North Africa, especially in the Rif and Kabyle region. Blondism frequency varies among Berbers from 1% among Jerban Berbers, 4% among Mozabite Berbers and Shawia Berbers, to 11% among Kabyle Berbers. In South Africa where there is a significant population of Whites, mainly from Dutch and English ancestry, blondes may account for 3-4% of the South African population.
A number of blonde naturally mummified bodies of common people (i.e. not proper mummies) dating to Roman times have been found in the Fag el-Gamous cemetery in Egypt, "Of those whose hair was preserved 54% were blondes or redheads, and the percentage grows to 87% when light-brown hair color is added". Excavations have been ongoing since the 1980s. Burials seem to be clustered by hair-colour.
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. In maturity the hair usually turns a darker brown color, but sometimes remains blond. Blondness is also found in some other parts of the South Pacific, such as the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and Fiji, again with higher incidences in children. Blond hair in Melanesians is caused by an amino acid change in the gene TYRP1. This mutation is at a frequency of 26% in the Solomon Islands and is absent outside of Oceania.
Blonde hair can be found in any region of Asia, including West Asia, East Asia, Central Asia, and South Asia. In these parts of Asia blond hair is generally seen among children that usually turns into a shade of dark brown in adulthood. Environmental factors, for example, sun exposure and nutrition status often contribute to changes in hair color in Asia.
Genetic research published in 2014, 2015 and 2016 found that Yamnaya Proto-Indo-Europeans, who migrated to Europe in early Bronze Age were overwhelmingly dark-eyed (brown), dark-haired and had a skin colour that was moderately light, though somewhat darker than that of the average modern European. While light pigmentation traits had already existed in pre-Indo-European Europeans (both farmers and hunter-gatherers) and long-standing philological attempts to correlate them with the arrival of Indo-Europeans from the steppes were misguided.
According to genetic studies, Yamnaya Proto-Indo-European migration to Europe led to Corded Ware culture, where Yamnaya Proto-Indo-Europeans mixed with "Scandinavian hunter-gatherer" women who carried genetic alleles HERC2/OCA2, which causes combination of blue eyes and blond hair. Proto-Indo-Iranians who split from Corded ware culture, formed Andronovo culture and are believed to have spread genetic alleles HERC2/OCA2 that causes blonde hair to parts of West Asia, Central Asia and South Asia.
Genetic analysis in 2014 also found that people of the Afanasevo culture which flourished in Altai Mountains were genetically identical to Yamnaya Proto-Indo-Europeans and that they did not carry genetic alleles for blonde hair or light eyes. Afanasevo culture was later replaced by second wave of Indo-European invaders from Andronovo culture, who were product of Corded Ware admixture that took place in Europe, and carried genetic alleles that causes blond hair and light eyes.
In 2009 and 2014, genomic study of Tarim mummies discovered in the Tarim Basin in present-day Xinjiang, China, showed that they were also a product of a Corded Ware admixture and were genetically closer to the Andronovo culture (which split from Corded Ware culture) than to Yamnaya culture or Afanasevo culture.
Today, higher frequencies of light hair in Asia are more prevalent among Pamiris, Kalash, Nuristani and Uyghur children than in adult populations of these ethnic groups.
An estimate of 75% of Russia is geographically considered North Asia; however, the Asian portion of Russia contributes to only an estimate of 20% of Russia's total population. North Asia's population has an estimate of 1-19% with light hair. From the times of the Russian Tsardom of the 17th century through the Soviet Union rule in the 20th century many ethnic Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Poles, Germans were settled in or exiled en masse to Siberia and Central Asia. Blond hair is often seen in these groups, whereas the indigenous peoples are more likely to be dark haired. For instance, their descendants currently contribute to an estimated 25% of Kazakhstan's total population.
The Greek gods are cited as varying in their appearances. While Poseidon was described as having a blue-black beard and Zeus blue-black eyebrows, Pindar described Athena as fair-haired. The sculptor Pheidias may have depicted Athena's hair using gold in his famous statue of Athena Parthenos, which was displayed inside the Parthenon. Hera, Apollo and Aphrodite were also described as blondes. Pindar collectively described the Homeric Danaans of the time of the war between Argos and Thebes as fair-haired. The Spartans are described as fair-haired by Bacchylides. In the work of Homer, Menelaus the king of the Spartans is, together with other Achaean leaders, portrayed as blond. Although dark hair colours were predominant in the works of Homer, there is only one case of a dark hero, and that is when the blond Odysseus is transformed by Athena and his beard becomes blue-black. Other blond characters in Homer are Peleus, Achilles, Meleager, Agamede, and Rhadamanthys. According to Francis Owens, Roman literary records describe a large number of well-known Roman historical personalities as blond. In addition, 250 individuals are recorded to have had the name Flavius, meaning blond, and there are various people named Rufus and Rutilius, meaning red haired and reddish-haired, respectively. The following Roman gods are said to have had blond hair: Amor, Apollo, Aurora, Bacchus, Ceres, Diana, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Minerva and Venus. An emperor, Nero, descended from an aristocratic family, is by the historian Suetonius described as: "... his hair light blond,... his eyes blue..." Augustus, founder of the Roman Empire, is by Suetonius described as having hair that was "... slightly curly and inclining to golden".
The traces of hair color on Greek korai likely reflect the colors the artists saw in natural hair. The hair has a wide range of shades of blond, red, and brown. The minority of statues with blond hair range from strawberry blond up to platinum blond. Sappho of Lesbos (630-570 BC) wrote that purple colored wraps as headdress were good enough, except if the hair was blonde; ...for the girl who has hair that is yellower than a torch (it is better to decorate it) with wreaths of flowers in bloom.
According to Victoria Sherrow, those Romans who were fair-haired preferred to dye their hair dark in the early period of Ancient Rome; at one point in time blond hair was even associated with prostitutes. The preference changed to bleaching the hair blond when Greek culture, which practiced bleaching, reached Rome, and was reinforced when the legions that conquered Gaul returned with blond slaves. Sherrow also states that Roman women tried to lighten their hair, but the substances often caused hair loss, so they resorted to wigs made from the captives’ hair.
Juvenal wrote in a satirical poem that Messalina, Roman empress of noble birth, would hide her black hair with a blonde wig for her nightly visits to the brothel: sed nigrum flavo crinem abscondente galero intravit calidum veteri centone lupanar. In his Commentary on the Aeneid of Virgil, Maurus Servius Honoratus noted that the respectable matron was only black haired, never blonde. In the same passage, he mentioned that Cato the Elder wrote that some matrons would sprinkle golden dust on their hair to make it reddish-color. Emperor Lucius Verus (r. 161 – 169 AD) was said to sprinkle gold-dust on his already "golden" blond hair to make it even blonder and brighter. Commodus (r. 177-192), son of Marcus Aurelius (a co-emperor with Lucius Verus), likewise had naturally curly blond hair.
From an ethnic point of view, Roman authors associated blond and red hair with the Gauls and the Germans: e.g., Virgil describes the hair of the Gauls as "golden" (aurea caesaries), Tacitus wrote that "the Germans have fierce blue eyes, red-blond hair (rutilae comae), huge (tall) frames"; in accordance with Ammianus, almost all the Gauls were "of tall stature, fair and ruddy". Celtic and Germanic peoples of the provinces, among the free subjects called peregrini, served in Rome's armies as auxilia, such as the cavalry contingents in the army of Julius Caesar. Some became Roman citizens as far back as the 1st century BC, following a policy of Romanization of Gaul and Lesser Germania. For instance, Gaius Julius Civilis, a prince of the Batavii, was a Roman citizen either by birth or naturalization (as indicated by his name). Before the Constitutio Antoniniana, which granted citizenship to all free men of the empire in 212 AD, entire auxiliary cohorts were occasionally granted citizenship for their performance in battle. Sometimes entire Celtic and Germanic tribes were granted citizenship, such as when emperor Otho granted citizenship to all of the Lingones in 69 AD. By the 1st century BC, the Roman Republic had expanded its control into parts of western Germany, and by 85 AD the provinces of Germania Inferior and Germania Superior were formally established there. Yet as late as the 4th century AD, Ausonius, a poet and tutor from Burdigala, wrote a poem about an Alemanni slave girl named Bissula, who he had recently freed after she'd been taken as a prisoner of war in the campaigns of Valentinian I, noting that her adopted Latin language marked her as a woman of Latium yet her blond-haired, blue-eyed appearance ultimately signified her true origins from the Rhine.
Further south, the Iberian peninsula was originally inhabited by Celtiberians outside of Roman control. The gradual Roman conquest of Iberia was completed by the early 1st century AD. The Romans established provinces such as Hispania Terraconensis that were inhabited largely by Gallaeci, whose red and blond-haired descendants (which also include those of Visigothic origins) have continued to inhabit northern areas of Spain such as Galicia and Portugal into the modern era. During the medieval period Spanish ladies preferred to dye their hair black, yet by the time of the Renaissance in the 16th century the fashion (imported from Italy) was to dye their hair blond or red.
In Norse mythology, the goddess Sif has famously blonde hair, which some scholars have identified as representing golden wheat. In the Poetic Edda poem Rígsþula, the blond man Jarl is considered to be the ancestor of the dominant warrior class.
In Northern European folklore, supernatural beings 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 beings. Elves and fairies were often portrayed with blond hair in illustrations in children's book of fairy tales. This continues the theme that blond hair is associated with beauty and goodness.
In contemporary popular culture, it is often stereotyped that men find blonde women more attractive than women with other hair colors. For example, Anita Loos popularized this idea in her 1925 novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Blondes are often assumed to have more fun; for example, in a Clairol commercial for hair colorant, they use the phrase "Is it true blondes have more fun?" Some women have reported they feel other people expect them to be more fun-loving after having lightened their hair.
Originating in Europe, the "blonde stereotype" is also associated with being less serious or less intelligent. This can be seen in blonde jokes. In Brazil, this extends to blonde women being looked down, as reflected in sexist jokes, as also sexually licentious. It is believed the originator of the "dumb blonde" was an 18th-century blonde French prostitute named Rosalie Duthé whose reputation of being beautiful but dumb inspired a play about her called Les Curiosites de la Foire (Paris 1775). Blonde actresses have contributed to this perception; some of them include Marilyn Monroe, Judy Holliday, Jayne Mansfield, and Goldie Hawn during her time at Laugh-In.
Alfred Hitchcock preferred to cast blonde women for major roles in his films as he believed that the audience would suspect them the least, comparing them to "virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints", hence the term "Hitchcock blonde". This stereotype has become so ingrained it has spawned counter-narratives, such as in the 2001 film Legally Blonde in which Reese Witherspoon succeeds at Harvard despite biases against her beauty and blonde hair, and terms developed such as cookie cutter blond (CCB), implying standardized blond looks and standard perceived social and intelligence characteristics of a blond. Many actors and actresses in Latin America and Hispanic United States have blond hair, blue eyes, and pale skin.
In colloquial Quebec French, "ma blonde" means "my girlfriend", regardless of the color of the specific woman's hair. Such is for example the reference in the name of the still-current 17th century chanson "Auprès de ma blonde".
American novelist and screenwriter Raymond Chandler offers an appraisal of the blonde as social criticism in his novel The Long Goodbye (1953):
There are blondes and blondes and it is almost a joke word nowadays. All blondes have their points, except perhaps the metallic ones who are as blond as a Zulu under the bleach and as to disposition as soft as a sidewalk. There is the small cute blonde who cheeps and twitters, and the big statuesque blonde who straight-arms you with an ice-blue glare. There is the blonde who gives you the up-from-under look and smells lovely and shimmers and hangs on your arm and is always very tired when you take her home. She makes that helpless gesture and has that goddamned headache and you would like to slug her except that you are glad you found out about the headache before you invested too much time and money and hope in her. Because the headache will always be there, a weapon that never wears out and is as deadly as the bravo’s rapier or Lucrezia's poison vial.
There is the soft and willing and alcoholic blonde who doesn't care what she wears as long as it is mink or where she goes as long as it is the Starlight Roof and there is plenty of dry champagne. There is the small perky blonde who is a little pal and wants to pay her own way and is full of sunshine and common sense and knows judo from the ground up and can toss a truck driver over her shoulder without missing more than one sentence out of the editorial in the Saturday Review. There is the pale, pale blonde with anemia of some non-fatal but incurable type. She is very languid and very shadowy and she speaks softly out of nowhere and you can't lay a finger on her because in the first place you don't want to and in the second place she is reading The Waste Land or Dante in the original, or Kafka or Kierkegaard or studying Provençal. She adores music and when the New York Philharmonic is playing Hindemith she can tell you which one of the six bass viols came in a quarter of a beat too late. I hear Toscanini can also. That makes two of them. And lastly there is the gorgeous show piece who will outlast three kingpin racketeers and then marry a couple of millionaires at a million a head and end up with a pale rose villa at Cap Antibes, an Alfa-Romeo town car complete with pilot and co-pilot, and a stable of shopworn aristocrats, all of whom she will treat with the affectionate absent-mindedness of an elderly duke saying goodnight to his butler.
American novelist and short story writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, and chronicler of the Jazz Age, describes a blonde salesclerk working in Minneapolis, Minnesota in his short story "At Your Age" (1929):
Then looking up, he saw the blonde girl.
She was a rare blonde, even in the Promised Land of Scandinavians, where pretty blondes were not rare. There was a warm color in her cheeks, lips and pink little hands that folded the powders into papers; her hair, in long braids twisted about her head, was shining and alive. She seemed to Tom suddenly the cleanest person he knew of, and he caught his breath as he stepped forward and looked into her gray eyes.
"A can of talcum."
"Any kind...that's fine."
She looked back at him apparently without self-consciousness, [and] his heart raced with it wildly."