Why Do Mermaids Have Red Hair?

by Fariba Bashiri

Here’s the Answer, Plus More Mermaids

Last Saturday it was one of those miserable rainy afternoons so I ‘ borrowed’ my 4-year old niece for a serious Disney binge session. She showed up with her mermaid tail snuggle blanket, and her movie of choice was Disney’s Little Mermaid - what else!

Whilst snacking on popcorn and enjoying the film, it occurred to me that many mermaids in films, books and popular myth and legend all seem to have red hair. It kinda got me thinking about why this is, so I simply had to find out and I thought it was definitely worth sharing with you all.

Let’s start with Ariel, here’s the quick answer, then we’ll talk about other Mermaid hair...

Why was Ariel’s hair red? When creating the character of Ariel, or Mermaids in general, Disney already had blonde and brunette leading ladies, so decided to go with a redhead. Firstly to be different, and secondly, so as not to be too similar to Daryl Hannah’s Mermaid character in the film ‘Splash’

But is this the only reason? And how does this relate to folklore and myth surrounding mermaids and water nymphs? I so enjoyed looking into this, so just had to share with you all. firstly we can discover how the decision was made for Ariel’s crowning glory to be a fabulous shade of red in more detail.

So why was Ariel was given glowing red locks and flew the flag for all those gorgeous redheads?

When Disney originally created the character of Ariel, the art department had created a beautiful shade of turquoise which was to be the color for Ariel’s tail. It was such a hit with the Disney team, and I just love that the color is simply known as ‘Ariel’.

Why Ariel Was Not Blonde or Brunette?

Whilst deciding upon Ariels ‘look’, the Disney team toyed with the obvious colors of a brunette or blonde. The iconic Snow White had already taken the brunette color, obviously, but what about blonde?

Daryl Hannah had made such a big hit in the film ‘Splash’ 5 years previously with her Platinum-blonde hair as Madison, that the Disney team looked seriously into replicating her flowing golden locks for Ariel’s character.

Blonde was in-keeping with Hans Christian Andersen’s original mermaid tale so was the obvious choice. However, there were also thoughts that they did not want Ariel to be too similar to that character.

The choice was heavily debated amongst the production team and was a point of contention for many of them. It certainly caused a few tidal waves of discussion! so much so, Jeffrey Katzenburg, the film’s producer was deeply concerned about the decision.

Whilst he was initially viewing black and white animation footage, he was mainly looking at pencil drawings which gave the impression Ariel’s hair was very light.

However, It was finally decided that Ariel’s hair should indeed be red. Which is a win for every wonderful red-headed mermaid lover!

Roger Allers, story artist on Disney’s Little Mermaid was quoted as saying - ‘The choice of red hair for Ariel works way better than blonde, … You’ve got red on top and the green tail, so you’ve got two complements which gives you energy. Also, … in a dark place, her hair gets darker. A dark shade of red is really much more easy to accomplish than to take yellow and make a dark yellow.’

However, there were one group of people who continued to be dissatisfied with the decision to create Ariel as a red-head ...


Red Haired Mermaid Dolls

The toy makers who were engaged with the production of Ariel Disney dolls were distinctly disgruntled when commissioned with the task of producing the ubiquitous Disney doll.

The color of Ariel’s hair certainly made more waves than ever when Tyco Toys  discovered to their horror, that Ariel’s hair would be red. All of their research at that time showed that red-headed dolls did not sell.

They panicked so much about this as the very first Ariel dolls that were made had a kind of pale strawberry blonde hair. If you have one of those, you most certainly are in possession of a rare collector's item.

All of their research at that time showed that red-headed dolls did not sell!

Ultimately Tyco was forced by Disney to remake the dolls as they insisted her hair would be red. Ariel certainly set a standard for red-haired princesses and leading ladies. Her hair is a distinctive trademark and allows her to stand apart from all other Disney Princesses.

Let’s now take a look into other legends and myths around mermaids, including popular culture, to see if there were any more links or clues as to why we often see other flame-haired nymphs and mermaids.

More Red Haired Mermaid Characters

I also discovered that the mermaids in Peter Pan were also in possession of red hair.

Once again Disney has opted for depicting their adaption of JM Barrie’s characters as having red hair. The mermaid who seemed to be ‘in charge’ had beautiful red hair, with golden seaweed around her head and a yellow top. Another mermaid depicted would also be a redhead with some seaweed wrapped around her head in a bun and the rest cascading onto her shoulders.

Biblical Red Haired Mermaid Connections

I was really interested to find out more fabulous nuggets of information whilst idly looking through a library book on popular myths and legends - even ones concerning biblical figures!

Mary Magdalene and Mermaids

The story of Mary Magdalene has other fascinating links to red-heads and mermaids.

Mary Magdalen, who was the legendary ‘fallen women’ who traveled with Jesus is generally depicted in popular culture as a red-head. Many artists throughout history have depicted her with long deep Auburn red hair, symbolizing passion, intelligence and perhaps rebelliousness. Three traits that can certainly be attributed to mermaids in general - and most definitely Disney’s Ariel characterization.

Along with this fascinating fact, imagine my surprise, when I found out Mary Magdalene has often been translated as meaning ‘mermaid’.

Mer/Mary meaning sea and Magdalene being a variant of Maiden/Madeleine. So there we’ve discovered another glorious sea maiden.

Another fascinating connection I discovered between wonderfully strong red-haired ladies, mythical sea creatures and our cultural history was looking back at Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’. There is a fascinating scene in which Ariel sings the show-stopping number ‘Part of Your World’.

Mary Magdalene has often been translated as meaning ‘mermaid’

When Ariel sings, ‘what’s a fire and why does it/what’s the word? Burn’, the scene cuts to Ariel looking at a painting. This painting is called ‘Magdalene with the Smoking Flame’ by French artist Georges De La Tour and was painted in 1640.

A version of the painting is currently held and exhibited at the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art and the Louvre Museum.

References to burning and flames, words all corresponding with red hair along with Mary’s rich dark auburn hair and the fact her name has been translated as meaning ‘mermaid’ is completely fascinating! Just a coincidence, maybe?

More Red Haired Mermaid Myths

Carrying on my search for watery red-haired information, I stumbled across this fascinating information regarding Russian Water nymphs and just wanted to share.

In Eastern Europe, there’s an ancient tradition regarding the beautiful and elusive Rusalka.

Rusalka - Red Haired Water Nymphs/Mermaids

The name Rusalka literally translates as ‘Red-Haired’. This is yet another super connection between mermaids and the ubiquitous red hair, I was so amazed when I found out yet another connection.

Rusalka appears in a variety of modern media and popular culture, particularly Slavic language speaking countries where they’re depicted as mermaids.

These water sprites were spirits of girls who had drowned and would lure young men to their deaths. They were at their most dangerous during ‘Green Week’ which celebrates nature and the rebirth of Spring.

They were originally linked to pagan fertility rights and only in later history were they given the bad press of enticing young men to their deaths.

She would use either her voice or her looks to entice and bewitch young men into the depths of the nearby waterways, in which they themselves had lost their lives.

Once captured, she would entangle their feet with her long red hair and submerge them. Her body would become instantly slippery so the doomed males had little chance of clinging on to her to be saved from their watery graves.

They were at their most dangerous during Rusalka Week at the beginning of June, where they were said to have left their murky depths and would swing on nearby Willow and Birch trees. Swimming during this week was strictly prohibited as anyone swimming may likely be dragged down to the river floor by these super beautiful and enticing watery maidens.

And Finally

It was so interesting looking into this subject and fact-finding Mermaids Red hair. I do hope you've enjoyed it and I hope it’s shed some light on Why Mermaids have red hair.

So just to finish this fabulous celebration of red hair, I’ll leave you with this wonderful mermaid inspired quote from JM Barrie’s Peter Pan.

If you shut your eyes and are a lucky one, you might see at times a shapeless pool of lovely pale colors suspended in the darkness; then if you squeeze your eyes tighter, the pool begins to take shape, and the colors become so vivid that with another squeeze the colors must burst and go fire. But just before they go on fire you see the lagoon. This is the nearest you ever get to it on the mainland, just one heavenly moment; at the very end of that moment, one may even hear the mermaids singing... " - Peter Pan (1911)

Do pop by our store and take a look at some of our fabulous exclusive curated Mermaid items. Do take a look at our beautiful collection of show-stoppingly elegant Mermaid style evening dresses. Perhaps you could even dye your hair red for the occasion!

Related Questions

Do mermaids sleep: As Mermaids are depicted mainly similar to human form, it is likely that they will have a similar sleep pattern to humans, particularly as there is no evidence that they can see any better than humans in the dark. Therefore, they would likely be active during the day and rest at night.

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