How Did Erik The Red Get His Name?

Here's a fun experiment: try pronouncing the name Eirikr rauði Þorvaldsson. We'll even make it easier, by rendering those Nordic letters into their Roman equivalents: Erik Thorvaldsson. If that's still quite a mouthful for you, you can go for the even simpler appellation that's been attached to him for more than a thousand years: Erik the Red.

Having been born and then living during a time when it was common for a person to be remembered by some sort of epithet rather than their actual name, such as Charles the Bald a century before him, it's hardly surprising that the Viking explorer, settler, and hell-raiser would get such a nickname. However, history has remembered him not as Erik the Discoverer (because he discovered Greenland, according to Visit Greenland), or Erik the Trickster (because he tricked settlers into settling the barren — and decidedly not green — island he discovered), nor as Eric the Murderer (because he did plenty of murdering). Rather, he's known as the much more mundane Erik the Red.

Erik the red was probably named for his hair color

According to Britannica, Erik the Red got his nickname in much the same way that an adult today may have gotten a nickname on the elementary school playground that has stuck with them — for his red hair color. He likely had the nickname since childhood.

However, that may not be the end of the story. Visit Greenland claims that while the red hair is a possibility, there may also be an alternate reason: his temper. The explorer certainly had a short fuse — one that he inherited from his father. Erik and his family left Norway for Iceland when the future explorer was a young boy, because his father had been convicted of manslaughter, according to Britannica. The apple didn't fall far from the tree, and soon enough, Erik was facing murder charges himself and this time needed a reason to leave Iceland. It was by fleeing the long arm of the law that Erik discovered Greenland and, later, tried to convince other settlers to populate the island.