What's in a Name?

Today's post comes from another favorite colleague of mine, Elizabeth Brown. Always astute and inquisitive, Elizabeth has a unique take on color. Let's see what she has to share with us!

Elizabeth, IACC-NA, is a Seattle based color consultant, oil painter and occasional blogger and goofball. She enjoys engaging in reverie at water’s edge at her wee cottage in Bremerton, Washington and is especially fond of birds. Although she would prefer to be dwelling in 18th century France, Liz is guided and most grateful for the support from her family, friends and colleague, Rachel Perls, for leading her down a path to all things technological.

What’s in a Name?
by Elizabeth Brown

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The word… it makes our thoughts come alive, turns them into reality. So do words create color or does color demand description?

“Post card Perfect”, “Sheer Exposure”, “Zanzibar”. Could you tell me which colors these names represent? Did Cro Magnon Man have such color choices as he painted in his cave? Hardly. And who gets to name these colors anyway? Let’s see, if I were to add up the all the names of the different hues from all of my fan decks, there would be thousands of color titles. Believe it or not, some existing cultures have only four words to describe color. Linguistics professor, Paul Kay who has spent his life debunking linguistic relativity through the study of color states that the number of words that a culture uses to describe colors corresponds with its degree of industrialization.

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There was no word for mauve until the hue was accidentally created in the lab in 1856 by English chemist Williams Perkin as he attempted to synthesize quinine as a cure for malaria. The word orange did not exist in Europe until the fruit appeared as an import from the South China Seas. Is there a color we don’t know yet? Or should I say, read yet? Something not from our visible electromagnetic spectrum, something that might come from another galaxy, a chemist’s test tube or from our own earth’s uncharted deep seas? Or perhaps from even from our literary imagination.

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Oh, how to decipher all this colorful nomenclature! Maybe there’s a deeper meaning, a code to be cracked. Could Don Brown, the Free Masons or even Al Qaida be sending us cryptic messages through our fan decks? And maybe, just maybe, if you say all the names backwards, really, really fast, it makes the colorful sound of “Paul is dead?”

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The other day I saw a car named Chevy Cobalt that was red and another named Toyota Sienna that was blue. Now that is just not right!

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All of this talk about color naming has left me dazed and confused …hey…why do you think they call it taupe?

“Draining the Language Out of Color” by Philip E. Ross, Scientific American, April 2002
Color – Messages and Meanings by Leatrice Eiseman
Bright Earth by Philip Ball
Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World by Simon Garfield