This post is about people with red hair, who are sometimes called "redheads".
Red hair occurs naturally on approximately 1–2% of the human population. It occurs more frequently (2–6%) in people of northern or western European ancestry, and less frequently in other populations. Red hair appears in people with two copies of a recessive gene on chromosome 16 which causes a mutation in the MC1R protein.
Red hair varies from a deep burgundy through burnt orange to bright copper. It is characterized by high levels of the reddish pigment pheomelanin and relatively low levels of the dark pigment eumelanin. The term redhead (originally redd hede) has been in use since at least 1510. It is associated with fair skin color, lighter eye colors (gray, blue, green, and hazel), freckles, and sensitivity to ultraviolet light.
Cultural reactions have varied from ridicule to admiration; many common stereotypes exist regarding redheads and they are often portrayed as fiery-tempered.
Several accounts by Greek writers mention redheaded people. A fragment by the poet Xenophanes describes the Thracians as blue-eyed and red haired. Herodotus described the Budini people as being predominantly red haired. Dio Cassius described Boudica, Queen of the Iceni, of the ancient Britons, to be "tall and terrifying in appearance... a great mass of red hair... over her shoulders."
The Roman historian Tacitus commented on the "red hair and large limbs of the inhabitants of Caledonia", which he connected with some red haired Gaulish tribes of Germanic and Belgic relation.
In Asia, red hair has been found among the ancient Tocharians, who occupied the Tarim Basin in what is now the northwesternmost province of China. Caucasian Tarim mummies have been found with red hair dating to the 2nd millennium BC.
Red hair is also found amongst Polynesians, and is especially common in some tribes and family groups. In Polynesian culture red hair has traditionally been seen as a sign of descent from high ranking ancestors and a mark of rulership.
Today, red hair is most commonly found at the northern and western fringes of Europe; it is associated particularly with the people located in the British Isles (although Victorian era ethnographers claimed that the Udmurt people of the Volga were "the most red-headed men in the world"). Redheads are common among Germanic and Celtic peoples.
Redheads constitute approximately 4% of the European population. Scotland has the highest proportion of redheads; 13% of the population has red hair and approximately 40% carries the recessive redhead gene. Ireland has the second highest percentage; as many as 10% of the Irish population has red, auburn, or strawberry blond hair. It is thought that up to 46% of the Irish population carries the recessive redhead gene. A 1956 study of hair color amongst British army recruits also found high levels of red hair in Wales and the English Border counties.
Red hair is also fairly common amongst the Ashkenazi Jewish populations, possibly because of the influx of European DNA over a period of centuries. In European culture, prior to the 20th century, red hair was often seen as a stereotypically Jewish trait: during the Spanish Inquisition, all those with red hair were identified as Jewish. In Italy, red hair was associated with Italian Jews, and Judas was traditionally depicted as red-haired in Italian and Spanish art. Writers from Shakespeare to Dickens would identify Jewish characters by giving them red hair. The stereotype that red hair is Jewish remains in parts of Eastern Europe and Russia.
In the United States, it is estimated that 2–6% of the population has red hair. This would give the U.S. the largest population of redheads in the world, at 6 to 18 million, compared to approximately 650,000 in Scotland and 420,000 in Ireland.
The Berber populations of Morocco and northern Algeria have occasional redheads. Red hair frequency is especially significant among the Riffians from Morocco and Kabyles from Algeria, whose frequence reaches 10% and 4%, respectively. The Queen of Morocco, Lalla Salma wife of king Mohammed VI, has red hair. Abd ar-Rahman I also had red hair, his mother being a Christian Berber slave.
In Asia, genetic red hair is rare, but can be found in the Levant (Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Palestine), in Turkey, in Caucasia, in Northern Kazakhstan, and among Indo-Iranians. The use of henna on hair and skin for various reasons is common in Asia. When henna is used on hair it dyes the hair to different shades of red.
Emigration from Eurasia and North Africa added to the population of red haired humans in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and Southern Africa.
In various times and cultures, red hair has been prized, feared, and ridiculed.
Beliefs about temperament
A common belief about redheads is that they have fiery tempers and sharp tongues. In Anne of Green Gables, a character says of Anne Shirley, the redheaded heroine, that "her temper matches her hair", while in The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield remarks that "People with red hair are supposed to get mad very easily, but Allie [his dead brother] never did, and he had very red hair."
During the early stages of modern medicine, red hair was thought to be a sign of a sanguine temperament. In the Indian medicinal practice of Ayurveda, redheads are seen as most likely to have a Pitta temperament.
Another belief is that redheads are highly sexed; for example, Jonathan Swift satirizes redhead stereotypes in part four of Gulliver's Travels, "A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms," when he writes that: "It is observed that the red-haired of both sexes are more libidinous and mischievous than the rest, whom yet they much exceed in strength and activity." Swift goes on to write that: "...neither was the hair of this brute [a Yahoo] of a red colour (which might have been some excuse for an appetite a little irregular) but black as a sloe..." Such beliefs were given a veneer of scientific credibility in the 19th century by Cesare Lombroso and Guglielmo Ferrero. They concluded that red hair was associated with crimes of lust, and claimed that 48% of "criminal women" were redheads.
Fashion and art
Queen Elizabeth I of England was a redhead, and during the Elizabethan era in England, red hair was fashionable for women. In modern times, red hair is subject to fashion trends; celebrities such as Nicole Kidman, Alyson Hannigan, Marcia Cross, Christina Hendricks, Emma Stone and Geri Halliwell can boost sales of red hair dye.
Sometimes, red hair darkens as people get older, becoming a more brownish color or losing some of its vividness. This leads some to associate red hair with youthfulness, a quality that is generally considered desirable. In several countries such as India, Iran, Bangladesh and Pakistan, henna and saffron are used on hair to give it a bright red appearance.
Many painters have exhibited a fascination with red hair. The hair color "Titian" takes its name from the artist Titian, who often painted women with red hair. Early Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli's famous painting The Birth of Venus depicts the mythological goddess Venus as a redhead. Other painters notable for their redheads include the Pre-Raphaelites, Edmund Leighton, Modigliani, and Gustav Klimt.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's story The Red-Headed League involves a man who is asked to become a member of a mysterious group of red-headed people. The 1943 film DuBarry Was a Lady featured red-heads Lucille Ball and Red Skelton in Technicolor.