The curious business of naming colours

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Being regular word nerds, we here at the AWC are fascinated by the huge range of imaginative names that companies come up with, particularly around colours. Take these interesting examples – Fiddlesticks, Alpha Centauri, Monastic and Cowardly Custard. They sound like the cast of a children’s fantasy novel, not wall colours. When choosing the new colour scheme for your lounge room, Lily Legs and Double Bass might not immediately come to mind. Yet these are all shades that you’ll find in the range of popular paint brand Dulux.

Above: Dulux’s Andrea Lucena-Orr reveals the secrets behind its colour-naming process.

How do they do it?
While to the casual consumer it might seem like these names are chosen at random, there is actually a rigorous process behind every name. In the name of science (and not just because we’re really nosey), we spoke with Andrea Lucena-Orr, Dulux Colour & Communications Manager, to find out exactly what this involves.

The first step is to brainstorm options, and for this the Dulux team will look in various places for inspiration. When naming a blue, for example, the team might look at aviation magazines (Airborne – pale blue) or scope out more nautical ideas (Ahoy – black-blue). They draw on everything available – atlases, magazines, books, street directories, websites, dictionaries and thesauri.

“Colour names should give you a hint of the actual colour and create a positive and uplifting feeling,” Andrea says.

Dulux features names like Mexican Milk, Lippie, Island Sea, Wing Commander, Metro Mars and Silver Spoon.

Once they have a list of names, they need to do some research to make sure the name doesn’t already exist in their database. The company carries more than 4,800 colours so duplication can happen. They also need to check that it’s not a trademarked name. If it fails either of these criteria, then it’s back to the drawing board!

Above: Kester Black’s colourful nail polish range.

A bit of polish
Things are a bit more low-key over at Australian nail polish brand Kester Black. While the whole team gets involved in brainstorming – it’s a small office – the final call is always made by the brand’s Director, Anna Ross.

Kester Black’s PR & Marketing Assistant, Sophie Kemp, told us that they like their colour names to tell a story. So their two newest colours, Comet and Dasher, are a deliberate shout out to Christmas.

“I love that they’re just Christmas-y without being called SANTA-PRESENTS-ELVES-HO-HO-HO,” Sophie says.

When new colours come out together, they tend to form collections – like Peony, Violet and Sugarplum, or Sorbet, Raspberry and Pinot Noir. Kester Black is also not above a pun: a pale peach polish is called Impeachment, while a punky neon yellow is, what else? Acid.

The brand frequently teams up with other companies, and names will reflect the connection. A collaboration with the Trophy Wife nail art salon in Melbourne led to memorable names like Sugar Daddy, Alimony and Prenup.

Ask the experts
Of course, we had to ask Andrea and Sophie what their own favourite colours are.

“I love Outrageous Red,” Andrea from Dulux says. “It’s such a vibrant red so it really suits the name. Ginger Crunch is a perfectly named gorgeous ginger/yellow/green. Spanish Olive is a perfect grey with a greenish undertone.”

Above: Dulux Colour Trends 2018 – Kinship Palette. Styled by Bree Leech. Photographer: Lisa Cohen.
Door – Dulux Outrageous Red
Walls – Dulux Time Capsule
Trim – Dulux Hildegard

Over at Kester Black, Sophie can’t go past their two latest Christmas polishes. “They’re super festive glitter.”

Finally, we challenged both of these companies to come up with colours for our fictional colour names: Mother-in-Law, Snooze, and Writer’s Block.

“Red for Mother-in-Law,” says Dulux’s Andrea. “Black for Snooze, because you still want to be asleep. And plain white for Writer’s Block – the colour of blank pages!”

For Mother-in-Law, Sophie went for a funky purple. “I feel like mums like purple, and calling things funky. Snooze would have to be a bright crimson to match the red hot panic of sleeping in after overindulging in the snooze alarm! And a cloudy grey for Writers’ Block, like the stale haze of no fresh ideas.”

Try it yourself
Thinking up colour ideas can be a great creative exercise. Grab your favourite shirt or jumper and look at it closely. If you had to come up with a name for its colour, what would it be? Think of what Andrea from Dulux said – it should give you a hint of the colour, but as Sophie said it should also tell a story. What colour is your story, your poem, your book? What colour is the town where you live?

Or for inspiration, browse through the websites of Dulux or Kester Black and make a story from a few of your favourite colours. Who knows where the adventures of Silkwort, Raku and Aerobus will take you?

By Nat Newman
Nat Newman is a freelance writer.

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