Irish Language Blog

When Is ‘Strawberry Blonde’ Not ‘Strawberry’?  When It’s ‘Fionnrua’ (An Introduction to Hair Color in Irish) Posted by on May 31, 2015 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Bean chlúiteach fhionnrua! By Siebbi (Nicole Kidman) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons). Nicole Kidman Premiere of the movie "Queen Of The Desert"

Bean chlúiteach fhionnrua! By Siebbi (Nicole Kidman) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons). Nicole Kidman
Premiere of the movie “Queen Of The Desert”

In the last blog post, we looked at the issue of redhead emojis, or the lack thereof.  In the past, when we just had simple hand-typed emoticons or basic yellow smileys, hair color wasn’t so much of an issue.  But now that we have a wide variety of choices for hair color and skin tone, per the Fitzpatrick scale, it seems only fair that “ruacht” should have its place as well.  Remember those words for “hair color” and “skin tone” from last time?  Muna cuimhin leat iad, tá na freagraí thíos.                                                                                                   

But today, we’ll look at a few of the more basic ones (blond, brown, black, gray), and the picturesquely phrased “strawberry blonde,” which somehow seems to usually be considered feminine in English, with the “-e” ending, from French.  Quick Google search: 852,000 hits for “strawberry blonde” and 344,000 (less than half) for “strawberry blond,” with no “-e,” implying either generic/unisex or perhaps specifically masculine.   Food for thought!

The basic word to describe blond hair is “fionn,” which also means “fair-haired” and sometimes “white,” although the basic word for “white” is “bán.”  Samplaí:

fear fionn, a blond man

bean fhionn [ban in, silent “fh”], a blonde woman

fir fhionna, blond men

mná fionna, blonde women

Donn” [dun OR down, depending on dialect] describes brown hair.

fear donn, a brown-haired man

bean dhonn, a brown-haired woman, a brunette.  In general, the “d” of “donn” will soften to the “dh” sound here, but sometimes this rule is broken because of the DNTLS exceptions (d after n tending not to get lenited even when the phrasing would normally require it, so you might see “donn” after “bean“)

fir dhonna, brown-haired men

mná donna, brown-haired women, brunettes; btw, this is not pronounced like the English name “Donna” or the name “Madonna;” those have more of an “ah” sound.  Irish “donn,” “donna,” and “dhonna” have the “o” sound of the Irish word “pota.

Hmmm, do we actually have an English word “brunet” for a brown-haired man?  Ní dóigh liom go bhfaca mé riamh é.  Céard faoin bhFraincis?

Dubh” [duv OR doo, with the standard Irish “dental d,” described in other blog postings in this series] means “black” or “black-haired.”

fear dubh, a black-haired man

bean dhubh, a black-haired woman.  May show up as “bean dubh” for the reasons mentioned above.

Remember also, this “black” doesn’t pertain to skin tone, for people of African descent.  It’s for hair.  To say someone is “black” (of African descent) in Irish, we use the word “gorm,” which basically means “blue.”  It strikes most learners as unusual, but, it is what it is.  Many people may have first been introduced to this terminology in the poignant movie, In America, in which an Irish family meets their first “black” person, while living in New York City, and use the word “gorm” to describe him.

Anyway, back to hair color.  For “gray,” we have “liath” [LEE-uh, with silent “-th”] as in:

fear liath, a gray-haired man

bean liath, a gray-haired woman

fir liatha, gray-haired men

mná liatha, gray-haired women

This word has a few other interesting twists, including “hoary” (sioc liath), “watery” (bainne liath), and even “moldy” (arán liath).  Oh, and “Cistercian” (manach liath), although we can, of course, also say “Cistéirseach” [KISH-tayrzh-shukh] for that.

And now, as we promised in the title for “strawberry blonde.”

Sorry, gan sútha talún (strawberries) ar bith sa bhfrása.

The word is “fionnrua,” literally “pale red” or “fair-red,” logically enough.  But just not “strawberry” as such.  In fact, a quick glance at some other languages suggests that the strawberry element isn’t always present for this color.  In French, the term is “blond vénetien,” which appears masculine, and so I assume the feminine would be “blonde vénetienne.”  Ceart, a Fhrancacha is a Cheanadacha?  Nó duine ar bith eile a labhraíonns Fraincis?

So, to wrap up, the phrases will be like “fionn” in terms of plurals and mutation:

fear fionnrua, a strawberry blond man (even though the term seems to apply more to women — cad a deir sibhse, a ghruagairí?)

bean fhionnrua, a strawberry blonde woman

fir fhionnrua, strawberry blond men

mná fionnrua, strawberry blonde women

Of course, so we haven’t really addressed various brightly dyed hair colors, like pink (bándearg) or bright red (dearg).  Iontráil eile, lá eile, b’fhéidir.   SGF  – Róislín

Freagraí: dath gruaige (hair color, lit. color of hair), ton cnis (skin tone, lit. tone of skin)

Dath ghruaig Nicole Kidman: fionnrua i mo bharúil, ach deir roinnt daoine go bhfuil gruaig rua uirthi agus deir daoine eile go bhfuil gruaig fhionn uirthi.  

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
Keep learning Irish with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it


  1. Leslie Brisebois:

    Hi! I love this article, I have blonde/orange hair and it’s really interesting to see the etymology!

    Ps: French is my maternal language: it’s blond vénitien, we’ll say: they have strawberry blonde hair. Iels ont des cheveux blonds vénitiens. But we don’t say blond vénitien to talk about a person, we’ll say blond-roux ou blonde-rousse. Have a nice day!

Leave a comment: