Hindu, Hindoo, Gentoo and Indian

What came first and what was more popular

While researching the origins of liberalism for another project, I came across an interesting analysis by Daniel B. Klein in the Atlantic magazine, where he used Google’s Ngram Viewer to trace the origins of the use of the word ‘liberal’ in a political sense.

I used the same tool to see when and how frequently the words Hindu, Hindoo, Gentoo and Indian were used in the English language.


So, although the word spelt as “Hindu” was used early on in English, the word “Gentoo” was more in vogue until 1781, after which “Hindoo” took over. The “Hindu” returned to popularity around 1867 and stayed in currency since then. We will have to ask historians to explain what happened in the 1780s and the late 1860s that led to these changes.


In comparison, the word “Indian” has always been more popular than “Hindu”, although they mean the same thing semantically. There might be some overcounting as the former was also used to refer to Native Americans during most of the period covered in this chart. The pattern is similar in other European languages that Google provides for.