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In the movie The Shawshank Redemption, when Andy first comes to Red (for smuggling a rock hammer), they have this dialogue:

Andy: Thank you... Mr. er...?

Red: Red. The name's Red.

Andy: Red? Why do they call you that?

Red: Maybe it's because I'm Irish.

Why is an Irish background supposed to give him the name "Red"?

I might be missing something since I'm not native to England or Ireland.

  • 17
    The physical characteristic of red hair is most common in the Irish. – PoloHoleSet Dec 1 '16 at 15:49
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Well, it is kinda explained on The Daily Beast,

In the book, Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding was a ginger-haired, middle-aged Mick. Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood and Paul Newman were all considered for the role that went to Morgan Freeman. Darabont alluded to the unusual casting choice by having Red jokingly reply to Andy’s inquiry about his nickname with the line, "Maybe it's because I'm Irish." Happily, they opted to not follow the quote with audio of a studio audience laughing.

Anyway, it was derived from his actual surname of Ellis Boyd Redding, or 'Red' for short, as revealed in his first parole hearing in the film.

Borrowed from comments:

The physical characteristic of red hair is most common in the Irish. And for non-native speakers, "ginger-haired" means "red-haired".

Credits to @G&C, "red-haired" is used to describe orange hair colours because orange is (relatively speaking) the newest colour name in the 7-colour spectrum (besides indigo), so the term "red-hair" literally precedes the use of "orange" as a colour.

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    [Insert Mind Blown meme] – Boaz Dec 1 '16 at 16:52
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    For full-points (and my thumbs up), consider mentioning that "red-haired" is used to describe orange hair colours because orange is (relatively speaking) the newest colour name in the 7-colour spectrum (besides indigo), so the term "red-hair" literally precedes the use of "orange" as a colour. – Ghoti and Chips Dec 1 '16 at 21:06
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    And for non-native speakers, "ginger-haired" means "red-haired". – Thunderforge Dec 2 '16 at 15:54
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There's more to the answer. Yes, it's because Irish people are known to have red hair (although this is actually from the Norse influence).

But it also a joke about race, and his accent or lack thereof. It's absurd that he could be Irish since blacks are not natives of Ireland (and still only constitute 1.4% of the current population) and that he has no discernible Irish accent.

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    But note that many Americans will declare themselves to "be Irish", by which they mean just that they have some Irish ancestry. These people almost certainly don't have any discernible Irish accent and aren't necessarily white. (The same goes for Americans of all kinds of other ancestries, such as Italian.) – David Richerby Dec 1 '16 at 18:11
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    Actually, the Norse Vikings got their red hair from taking beautiful Irish redheads home with them. – Stig Hemmer Dec 2 '16 at 11:18
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    "It's absurd that he could be Irish since blacks are not natives of Ireland" --> Note that the current US president is a wee bit Irish. Even back-in-the day, there was mixing of races in the U. S., so not so absurd, even if not typically considered. – chux Dec 4 '16 at 17:20
  • There was quite a history of intermarriage and intermixture between Irish immigrants to the US and African-Americans in the 18th, 19th centuries. So he could certainly have some Irish ancestry, and an Irish name. – smci Dec 4 '16 at 17:31
  • Just thinking of the long and not-so-proud history of American actors trying to do an Irish accent...... another reason why I like Freeman so much, I guess (him not doing it). – PoloHoleSet Dec 27 '17 at 17:44
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As previous answers have said, his name is "Redding".

Interesting though, "red" or "redbone" is an African-American skin/hair tone where the person has a multi-racial heritage giving them a very light skin with a slight reddish tint, as opposed to "yellow" or "high yellow" with a more yellow tint. The politics of these phrases are beyond complicated, as with anything to do with African-American racial-heritage issues. Shawshank Redemption starts in the era of the KKK and Jim Crow though, so political correctness was very much not a thing back then. Morgan Freeman's skin is darker than would typically be described as "red", but it's worth noting that this is actually a legitimate nickname for an African-American character.

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    Malcolm X (back when he was still Malcolm Little) had the nickname "Detroit Red" because of his reddish hair. – Mohair Dec 2 '16 at 21:07
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"Red" was short for his family name "Redding". It is quite possible that he had Irish ancestry, and an Irish family name.

There was quite a history of intermarriage and intermixture between Irish immigrants to the US and African-Americans in the 18th, 19th centuries.

NYT: How Green Was My Surname; Via Ireland, a Chapter in the Story of Black America

So many African-Americans have Irish-sounding last names that you would think that the long story of blacks and Irish coming together would be well documented. You would be wrong.

... when it comes to written historical exploration of black-Irish sexual encounters, "there are little mentions, but not much."

... unlike native-born whites, "Irish were more willing to accept and acknowledge interracial allegiances.''

Before the Civil War, "the free mulatto population had the same number of black moms as white moms."

... mixed-race children would have been given Irish surnames when their Irish fathers married their black mothers, or when their unmarried Irish mothers named children after themselves.

The Irish ended up in the Caribbean, too. Britain sent hundreds of Irish people to penal colonies in the West Indies in the mid-1600's, and more went over as indentured servants.

  • @Chenmunka: yes it does: in the book, "Red" was short for his family name "Redding". This explains how he might have gotten that family name. – smci Dec 4 '16 at 18:00

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