The Arizona Republic
March 9 2004
Caucasian label linked to highlands
QUESTION: What is the origin of the term “Caucasian” for White
ANSWER: Words sometimes hold a secret history within themselves.
Think of influenza, which originally referred to the supposed
influence of the stars on our health, an idea that predated the
modern germ explanation of diseases.
“Caucasian” is a word heard often. Police dispatchers, for instance,
frequently describe crime suspects as Caucasian rather than White.
Caucasian comes from the Caucasus, the region between the Black and
Caspian seas that includes the nations of Georgia, Azerbaijan,
Armenia and part of southern Russia. The towering ranges of the
Caucasus Mountains traverse it.
Why should the Caucasus provide a name for the lighter-skinned
peoples of western Asia, North Africa and Europe as well as for their
descendants around the world?
The late naturalist Stephen Jay Gould tells how the term arose as a
racial label in his 2002 book I Have Landed: The End of a Beginning
in Natural History.
In 1795, Gould says, the prominent German scholar and scientist
Johann Friedrich Blumenbach published a major work in which he
reclassified humanity into five races: American (Native Americans),
Mongolian, African, Malay and Caucasian.
Blumenbach selected this term for lighter-skinned peoples Gould says,
because he felt that the skulls of people from the Caucasus region,
especially Georgians, were the most beautiful of all White peoples.
European that he was, Blumenbach thought Whites were generally the
most aesthetically pleasing of races in the first place. So great was
his influence that Caucasian caught on and remains a synonym for