A few days ago, one of my students asked where the eight tiny reindeer got their names.  I knew there were some German names in there, but beyond that, I was not sure.  So, I went looking.

The reindeer first show up in a poem by Clement C. Moore.  Mr. Moore wrote A visit from St. Nicholas in 1823.

In the poem, which was first published in New York, the reindeer receive their names.  Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, and Comet are words we are used to.  But, what about Donner and Blitzen?  

Donner is the German word for thunder.  The same word shows up in the German word for Thursday, Donnerstag.  It’s a nod back to Thor.  Just like our word Thursday is a reference to Thor.  Thursday is Thor’s day.  

Blitzen is the German word for flash.  Blitzen is from the German word for lightning, Blitz.  When a football team performs a blitz, for example, most of the defensive players go after the quarterback… in a flash.  Like a bolt of lightning.   That’s the idea, anyway.

Originally, Donner and Blitzen had Dutch names, Dunder and Blixem.  Over time, the German names won out.