Norwegian Language Blog

It’s not all blond hair and blue eyes Posted by on Nov 5, 2008 in Culture

I come from a part of the country that is full of norsk heritage.  I grew up in Northfield, MN, attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, and currently reside in Northfield, MN.  St. Olaf College was founded by Norwegian immigrants for the purpose of educating Norwegians.  Although St. Olaf prides itself on other things things now, including it’s internationally renowned musikk department and fantastic study abroad programs, the norsk influence is still very apparent.  There is a norsk department that teaches beginning to advanced norsk language and litteratur, as well as kultur and historie.  Approximately 50% of the student body hails from MN and probably about that very percent has blond hair, blue eyes. (lyst hår and blå øyner).

I went out east to New York to visit my brother at college once and all of his friends from the east coast couldn’t believe that I had real blond hair and blue eyes.  There are very few people from that part of the country relative to the midwest that have these features (that aren’t fake, that is).  Whenever I would talk about going to Norway, guys would always ask about the blond haired, blue eyed girls.  I think most people assume that all Norwegians have blond hair and blue eyes.  In fact, I thought so too prior to my first trip there.

Much to my surprise, there were many nordmenn (general term  used for Norwegians, haven’t quite hit the point of political correctness concerning such words) with very dark hair and dark eyes.  This is especially true of the coastal areas, specifically along the western coast.  When I was in Bergen for the first time I saw a lot of people with dark features and initially assumed that they were foreigners.  After talking to them, I realized that they were indeed natives.

I didn’t think much of it at the time until I took a Scandinavian history class and learned about the Hanseatic League or League of the Hansa.  The Hansa was an alliance of trading cities spanning much of Northern and Eastern Europe.  Bergen was one of the primary cities in the Hansa.  It is my understanding that the influx of people from different parts of Europe are partially responsible for the greater number of dark haired, dark eyed nordmenn.

Of course there are still lots of blond haired, blue eyed Norwegians in Norway, but the stereotype is not completely accurate.  Another common assumption is that Norway is an ethnically homogenous population.  Although this was true until recently, there is actually quite a large immigrant population in Oslo.  I’ll share more about this another day though!

Happy Halloween!  I happen to be the only one at my work that is dressed up…..I guess everyone else was joking.

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About the Author: kari

I attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, where I majored in Norwegian and History. During college, I spent almost a year living in Oslo, Norway, where I attended the University of Oslo and completed an internship at the United States Embassy. I have worked for Concordia Language Villages as a pre-K Norwegian teacher and have taught an adult Norwegian language class. Right now, I keep up by writing this Norwegian blog for Transparent Language. Please read and share your thoughts! I will be continuing this blog from my future residence in the Norwegian arctic!


  1. Robert Crouch:

    I am a Chinese translator by profession, but I was, some years ago, studying the Norwegian language. I think that Bokmal is perhaps the world’s most beautiful language when spoken well. I didn’t get too far, but my relative expertise in phonology told me that the explanation of Norwegian phonology in textbooks is false. Many languages suffer this same problem, including Chinese and French. Since Norway is a nation that now welcomes migrants in rather large numbers, I think that my discoveries are important, but I have been unable to interest anyone here in Australia. Frankly, trying to interest academic linguistics in a new idea is almost impossible. Do you know anyone who would be interested in hearing what I have to say?

    • Xu Xin:

      @Robert Crouch Hei hei I am a Chinese college student who has been studying Norwegian for about six months, and i love the language sooooo much! You are right it is beautiful.
      I am willing to hear what you have to say about bokmål!

      • Anna:

        @Xu Xin Except bokmål isn’t spoken, it’s written. Norwegians speak dialects and write bokmål or nynorsk. That is an important distinction to make in order to understand the Norwegian language and society.

        You could practice pronunciation at

        Remember there is no norm when it comes to pronunciation, so the way you speak will always reflect some geographical area.

  2. Aaron Cervic:

    Hey, I was curious if the Norse had any legends of why they have blue eyes.

    • Xu Xin:

      @Aaron Cervic Hei hei I am a Chinese college student who has been studying Norwegian for about six months, and i love the language sooooo much! You are right it is beautiful.
      I am willing to hear what you have to say about bokmål!

  3. elen:

    Interesting post…I’m Norwegian myself (from Oslo). The stereotype that Norwegians are blonde hair and blued eyed probably applies to the majority of the population marginally. This stereotype might have been applicable but a very long time ago… I’m a brown eyed brunette.

  4. Jonathan:

    Just a question Elen… Is your family heretage Norwegian, or is it from a non Nordic country; being Norwegian on by birth and not by family lines? I ask only because I am from the United States but my family is mostly Norwegian, Swedish, and Irish who don’t all have blonde hair but all have blue or hazel eyes…

    • Pete Powell:

      @Jonathan I expect the stereotype came from actual facts because blonde hair and blue eyes are common in north Europe.

  5. Bethany:

    My Norwegian ancestry dates back to the 1500s on my father’s side, and on my mother’s side it dates back to the 1200s. I happen to be a brown eyed brunette with an olive skin tone. My mom’s ancestors were from the tip-top of Norway, while my dad’s ancestors were from Oslo. We have no evidence of the Sami people (native Norwegians) in our blood.
    However, there are stories that on my mom’s side we do have Viking history. I know that the saying is that Vikings “got around”, but I doubt that they conquered Italy and the Americas and had room on their boats to take the women back with them. I feel like no one ever thinks that Vikings were men, and it takes a woman to have a baby, and it’s not like Vikings were known to fall in love when they were pillaging.
    I’ve been trying to figure this out for a while and I haven’t been able to find an answer to why roughly half of the population of Norway are dark, while the other half are light.

  6. John Doyle Bicknell:

    My grandmother was half norwegian, one of my half brothers and one half sister were very dark haired and have brown eyes, as with our cousins and our father. The Irish surname Doyle means both norseman and dark one. So I should imagine that the dark norwegians were around before the middle ages.

  7. The Truth is….:

    The population of Norway, and every other European country for that matter, is so mixed because humans in Europe have been mixing since we left Africa and headed north. Caucasian skin can range from (pink to olive), Eye color (light blue-dark brown), hair color (plat. blonde to dark brown). Both of my Parents are Norwegians, My dad is olive toned, dark curly hair, dark eyes. My mom is pale, blonde hair and green eyes. Humans are homogenous. You can’t generalize. By the way Bethany, the Normans (“Northmen”) Invaded and conquered sicily and southern Italy making the County of Sicily in 1071AD. And Yes jonathan they are “ethnic Norwegians” whatever that means…..

    • Pete Powell:

      @The Truth is.... I thought Caucasian dark Indian Asians can have brown skin? Sanskrit is related to Indo European languages which stretch from Europe, Persia to India.

  8. Just Wondering:

    My mother’s family originated in Norway – off the boat in approximately 1867. She used to say that her relatives told her there was a “dark side of the mountain and a light side of the mountain” and that those who lived on the dark side had dark hair and were more dark complected and those from the light side of the mountain were fair. I haven’t really been able to corroborate this anywhere. Anyone else ever heard a similar story or legend?

  9. Paige:

    Hello..I am part Norwegian, but that is not the point of this comment. I’m doing a project over Norway and have a few questions that after hours of scouring the internet have still not been answered. One of which would be why did some of these stereotypes develop? I.e. vikings, born with skis, blonde, tall, alcoholics…etc. An email would be great and I will be checking this post frequently. Thank you!

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Paige Ok, dropping you a mail. 🙂

  10. Sharen c:

    My grandmother was full Norwegian . My sister told me that the blue eyes came from Spanish soldiers that traveled through Norway. We all have light skin and blue or green eyes.

    • Pete Powell:

      @Sharen c Why would blue eyes come from Spain which is south Europe but blue eyes are more common in north Europe where there’s less need for pigmentation?

  11. H. William Harrier:

    My mother was pure Norwegian maiden name was Hansen my grandmother’s name was Ingeborg Sorensen. They had blond hair and blue eyes, I have the blond air it actually was white as a small child but I got my German father’s hazel eyes.

  12. Jan:

    My father’s side of the family is from Levanger. Fair, blue eyes although my dad had black hair and green eyes. My mother’s maternal side was from Hemsedal, dark hair and brown eyes. Father’s side from Seljord. My one brother was white blond as a kid and blue eyes. Older brother as fair with black hair and blue eyes, and I have very dark hair, brown eyes and olive complexion. Our kids had very dark hair, brown and green eyes.

  13. nyalalam:

    I am very sad to hear that Norway is not a homogeneous white nation anymore. I hope the percentage of sub-Saharans and Middle Easterners does not become so large that they will replace the pale, white population. Being pale with fair hair and eyes and slender features is part of the Norwegian character. It would be a terrible shame if you were to lose those traits and become brown like the rest of the world. It would be sad if, by the year 2100, all Norwegians are brown with dark eyes, flat noses and coiled Afro hair. Africa’s population will grow to 4.4 billion by the end of the century, so I don’t think it is fair that they will replace the fair, white population in Scandinavia too.

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @nyalalam @nyalalm – thank you for sharing your opinion. Most Norwegians nowadays are used to seeing other Norwegians with different skin colours, eye colours… I think it is important to acknowledge that Norway 2017 is not the same as Norway 1917. I also think that the blue-eye look will be along for a really long time. That more people fall in love and get children across ”ethnicities” does not mean that everybody does. Traditional-looking Norwegians still get kids with other traditional-looking Norwegians. Also, if you see somebody speaking, acting, thinking and dressing Norwegian, does it make them less Norwegian if they look like this:×579.jpg (Hjerterud was a baker in a Norwegian children’s tv special last year)

  14. Paul:

    80 Irish 20 Scandinavian all realities blonde hair and blue eyed or like me green eyed No brown eyed relatives,at least 40 and counting. Why? Math doesn’t add up