Origins: Can you recite the names of Santa's eight reindeer? If so, you probably do it by recalling the first few lines of the 1949 song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer":
and Prancer and Vixen;
Comet and Cupid,
and Donner and
Gave the lustre of midday to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be Saint Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name.
"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on Dunder and Blixem!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now, dash away! dash away! dash away all!
The story of how two reindeer named 'Dunder' and 'Blixem' became 'Donner' and 'Blitzen' is a complicated and confusing one, in part because a good deal of mystery remains about the origins of the poem that named them, "A Visit from Saint Nicholas." We'll do our best here to trace the history of how the poem — and the names of two reindeer — changed over time.
"A Visit from Saint Nicholas" made its first print appearance in New York's Troy Sentinel newspaper on
Whether Moore or Livingston wrote "A Visit from Saint Nicholas," one of them melded elements of Scandinavian mythology with the emerging Dutch-American version of Santa Claus as a jolly, pipe-smoking fellow and produced a vision of a sleigh pulled by eight flying reindeer. He assigned names to all the reindeer, and he took two of them from a common Dutch exclamation of the time, "Dunder and Blixem!" (the Dutch words for "thunder" and "lightning," as rendered in English orthography). These are the names that appeared in the original 1823 publication of "A Visit from Saint Nicholas":
Prancer, and Vixen,
On! Comet, on! Cupid, on!
Dunder and Blixem;
Literary sleuths (such as Donald Foster) who believe Moore is not the true author of a "A Visit from Saint Nicholas" have theorized that the original reindeer names of 'Dunder' and 'Blixem' sounded odd to Moore because he knew German but not Dutch, and he therefore changed
How and when 'Donder' made the transition to 'Donner' remains a mystery. In 1949 Johnny Marks turned the popular story of Rudolph, a misfit red-nosed reindeer (created by his brother-in-law,
Although Marks certainly helped popularize the 'Donner' usage by including it in the "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" lyrics, he was far from the first to refer to one of Santa's reindeer by that name. We found seven different mentions of 'Donner' in the pages of The New York Times prior to the 1949 Christmas season, the earliest occurring in that newspaper's 1906 publication of Moore's poem. In fact, a 1926 New York Times article on the origins of Santa Claus stated that "two of the original reindeer were originally given Dutch names, 'Donder and Blixen' (Blicksem), meaning thunder and lightning" and "it is only modern publishers who have rechristened them with the German 'Donner and Blitzen.'"
But that's as far as the trail leads us. We know 'Blixem' was changed to 'Blixen' and then 'Blitzen' between 1837 and 1844, and we can make some reasonable guesses about why those changes were made, but we're still mostly in the dark about why 'Dunder' became 'Donder,' and the details of when and why 'Donder' finally became 'Donner' remain elusive. We can say for sure, though, that the names of two of Santa's reindeer, as originally published about
Last updated: 30 July 2007
Barnard, Eunice Fuller. "Santa Claus Claimed as a Real New Yorker." The New York Times. 19 December 1926 (p. XX6). Elie, Lolis Eric. "Get Used to 'On, Donder!'" The Times-Picayune. 3 January 1997 (p. B1). Foster, Don. Author Unknown. New York: Henry Holt, 2000. ISBN 0-8050-6357-9 (pp. 221-275). Gugliotta, Guy. "Corrections Roll in Like a Clap of Donder." The Washington Post. 11 January 1994 (p. A17). Hicks, Jack. "Lawyer's Mission: Righting a Reindeer Wrong." The Dallas Morning News. 23 December 1996 (p. C7). The Time-Life Book of Christmas. New York: Prentice Hall, 1987. ISBN 0-13-133679-7 (pp. 200-202).