My native language is Romanian, one with a lot of French neologisms that resulted in many (more or less) false friends. Thus, I was very surprised in France to hear people saying about a girl with light skin and brown hair that she was "une jolie brune". — The French brunet has given an identical term in Romanian and brunette has given the word brunetă, both much more actively used than in French, and meaning people with somewhat darker skin and hair, and usually dark-colored eyes, something like the "Mediterranean" type, let's say George Clooney and Claudia Cardinale

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but not simply people with brown, dark-brawn or black hair: not just "not blonde" (which to me seems to be the real meaning of brune in expressions like "jolie brune" ou "plutôt brune").

(I think this broader meaning is exceptional for a neologism, which normally gets a more limited and more specific meaning compared to the original.)

CNTRL says about brun, brune:

Celui, celle dont les cheveux sont bruns

and about brun, brunette:

A.− Emploi adj.
1. Rare. Légèrement brun(e), tirant sur le brun. ...
2. P. méton. [En parlant de pers.] Dont les cheveux tirent sur le brun...

B.− Emploi subst.
1. Jeune femme, jeune fille dont les cheveux sont bruns, tirent sur le brun. 

And is there a term for people with fair skin and black/dark hair?


1 Answer 1


You are correct to tell blond and brun only qualify the hair color when we say il est blond or elle est brune. Brun and blond are both commonly used as adjectives as well as substantives.

There is no term I'm aware of for a combination of dark hair and light skin.

What could be used is: un brun / une brune à la peau claire.

In addition to bronzé (sun tanned), there is a word that includes naturally dark skins, basané, but beware they might carry a pejorative connotation, especially when used as substantives. There is also the adjective mate in avoir la peau mate which is often used to describe a dark skin.

In general, referring to someone's skin color might be touchy in France and other countries, as Sebastian Coltescu experienced a few month ago...

  • The fact that this color-terminology is reserved to the hair and that most terms related to the (darker) skin are potentially or obviously "touchy" is very interesting. This strikes me because in Romanian the situation is clearly different, maybe because of the great difference in historical backgrounds.
    – cipricus
    Feb 25, 2021 at 10:51
  • 1
    If I'm not mistaken we talk of "peau mate" to speak about darker skins without mentioning a color or shade. Note that "bronzé" as a substantive is also pejorative, and used as an adjective is sometimes just politically correct, darker skins are just darker, the sun has nothing to do with that...
    – Laurent S.
    Feb 25, 2021 at 10:59
  • The "false friends" situation can get close to catastrophic results. Negru, which means "black" as adjective and "black man" as noun in Romanian has led Coltescu into trouble. But while feminine adjective "black" is neagră (fairly inoffensive), the substantival form "black woman" and still commonly used by many Romanians with complete ingenuity is (hold your breath) negresă, coming from the French negresse. Which makes me think that substantival negru was at one time related to nègre: this aspect is ignored now by many Romanians, but may be obvious to a French speaker.
    – cipricus
    Feb 25, 2021 at 11:06
  • @LaurentS. - speak about darker skins without mentioning a color or shade is an odd expression. What other than color or shade can "mate" mean?
    – cipricus
    Feb 25, 2021 at 11:11
  • @cipricus: "mate" is often opposed to "brilliante". When buying paint for example, you usually can find it both, but any color from white to black can be "mate". Still, talking of "peau mate" means dark or brown skin...
    – Laurent S.
    Feb 25, 2021 at 12:14

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