Santa’s Reindeer: Nicely Named?

Sometime not long before Christmas in 1949,  a song by cowboy movie hero Gene Autry began to be heard frequently on radios: in those days nearly all in cars or in houses.  That song, of course, was “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

I even acquired a two-page cartoonish version of the song as a “premium” being given out to kids at the “Monkey Ward” store in Marysville,  Kansas.  (Had I kept that souvenir,  it likely would be worth some money today!)

That song made listeners quite sympathetic toward Rudolph because he was the outcast,  the kid not chosen until last, if ever.  Those naughty other reindeer never let him in on “any reindeer games.”

Rudolph did,  of course,  become a hero,  a “contender and no longer a pretender,  a real “Somebody” loved by all of his peer deer,  instead of a glum and alienated, lonesome loser, who might some day visit a pawn shop and then seek some terrible vengeance and wreak great woe in his workplace.

I liked to hear Ol’ Gene recite in the first stanza the names of the flying reindeer: “Dancer, and Dasher, and Prancer, and Vixen,  Comet, and Cupid, and Donner and Blitzen.”  But,  oh, no!   I have garbled up one of the names!  That deer would probably never answered the call to the runway!

So pointed out a recent reader to the Editors of “The Fayetteville Observer”  when she complained that the correct name for one member working in the sleigh galley was supposed to be “Donder” and not “Donner.”

Absolutely correct: using”Donner” might bring up memories of the ill-fated party of settlers that ended up snowbound in Oregon;  starving,  some became cannibals.   One of them,  a grandmother, had already died, and was buried in a prairie grave far from her friends and kin,  as the Donner Party stopped for a rest in the better days of 1846 at Alcove Spring,  near my home town.

Here is another key to remembering the correct name: the reason why “Donder” is paired with “Blitzen” is that both names are derived from the German phrase “Donder und Blitzen,”  which means “Thunder and Lightning.”   But, I know, you already knew that. . . .

RJR

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12 Responses to “Santa’s Reindeer: Nicely Named?”

  1. pen Says:

    Ack! Sorry professor, but “Donner” is the German word for “thunder”.

    But you are right that the reindeer’s name was Donder. The names in the original poem are Dunder and Blixem — the Dutch words for thunder and lightning.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Claus%27s_reindeer#The_original_eight_reindeer

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  5. fayettenam hoe Says:

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  6. Raymond Rundus Says:

    I can understand now why the other reindeer did not let Rudolph play any reindeer games. He was different. A shiny nose might work in dark places but not likely in the bright sunlight.

    Thanks, Pen, for picking up on my blunder about “dunder” and for noting that the Dutch dialect common in our country in the early centuries of the Colonies and the Republic (keeping in mind that immigration from Germany provided the largest contingent of settlers during those early times) lent itself to the alternate spelling/pronunciation. And since “Dunder” rhymes with “Thunder” it makes the connection seem more likely. Ah well, I will recover in about ten days or so . . . .

    I ought to have consulted my wife’s “Oxford Duden German-English English-German Woerterbuch. Also the lady who wrote in about “Donner” being the wrong spelling-pronunciation of this fine reindeer kind of led me astray also.

    We need more comments here!

    I do want to write a couple of posts soon, one about a forthcoming Clint Eastwood-directed movie and the other about some of my rather special books.

    RJR

  7. pen Says:

    I knew Donner and Blitzen from German class, but I’d heard Donder before too, so I looked it up. Seems that some people think Moore didn’t really write the poem, because there is no indication that he spoke Dutch. The theory is the poem was originally written by someone of Dutch descent, then Moore picked it up and either purposefully or mistakenly changed Blixem to Blitzen. Maybe he spoke some German, or maybe because it rhymes better with Vixen. Anyway, Dunder morphed to Donder and it stayed that way for a while, until someone noticed and made it all German — Donner and Blitzen.

    Check out this link: http://www.snopes.com/holidays/christmas/donner.asp

  8. Raymond Rundus Says:

    Thursday evening, nearly time for “Jeopardy.”

    Thanks again, Pen. However, you seem to be crediting Mr. Clement Moore with authoring “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” would appear much earlier and its antiquity would validate the spelling of this reindeer’s name as “Dunder,” re the Dutch influence. Also of course the pronunciation.

    The music for “Rudolph” was done (before the lyrics apparently) by Johnny Marks, and the lyrics by Robert May, apparently not long before the release of the son. Then followed highly successful recordings of the completed song by Gene Autry and Burl Ives. And many more, of course, in later times.

    RJR

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