When picking out a paint color (or, for that matter, a beauty product), you've probably marveled at the interesting color names, ranging from the poetic (like Ashes of Roses) to the mind-boggling (Likeable Sand?) to the food-related (Nacho Cheese). If you've ever wondered how these names could possibly come to be, you are not alone. A Reddit AMA with color marketing managers Dee Schlotter and Misty Yeomans from PPG Pittsburgh Paints amassed nearly 2,000 questions about naming paint colors.
From the outside, it seems like it must be one of the most fun and bizarre jobs you could do in the design industry, though it also seems surprisingly stressful. Keep reading for some key takeaways from the paint-naming AMA.
The people who name the colors don't just name the colors.
Although it's sort of romantic to think that there are people who sit around all day thinking about paint descriptors like Purple Davenport and Frosted Tulip as their sole occupation, it's not quite accurate. As color marketing managers, Dee and Misty have a variety of duties — naming the colors is one of many. As they put it, "Naming colors is about 10 percent of developing a new color marketing program or collection launch. We design the color cards, color brochures, design the rooms in the images, prefect the images, the chip rack, and so much more."
Inspiration for color names can come from literally anything.
According to Misty and Dee, the ideas for paint colors are based on "whatever the color sparks in our mind," and they can cull inspiration from literally anything: pop culture, food, nature, and sometimes their own families or experiences. Dee named a color Zombie "because my son loves Zombies so he named it." (Apparently Zombie is a popular color right now, which may or may not have to do with The Walking Dead.) Dee's son also named a former PPG color Flapjack after his affection for pancakes. For her part, Misty named one paint El Capitan because she loves Yosemite.
As with any job, there are grand achievements in paint color names . . . and some regrets.
Dee and Misty have some names that "amuse" them, like Gobbledygook, Funky Frog, and Gone Giddy ("which is what happens after you name 500 colors"), and Dee's personal favorite of her own is Ghost Ship, because "it has emotion with it. It feels emotional to me and I like words that have emotion to it."
As for regrets . . . Dee says, "I regret naming any colors that don't give someone the impression of the color — a name that doesn't align with the color that it is. Or something gross. Like the color Teeny Bikini — to me that color would be teal with white, but in reality it is yellow." Meanwhile, Misty has learned the hard lesson of picking lengthy color names. "When you are actually trying to fit it into materials it gets hard and I get mad at myself. Like Flowering Raspberry and Enchanting Eggplant. Too long."
The names of paint colors can have an effect on how well (or poorly) the paint sells.
Gross or unappealing paint names (like Mincemeat, Split Pea Soup, or Gristmill) can turn off consumers and influence the sales of those hues. On the other hand, Dee points out that the right names can add tremendous appeal. "For example, calling a color mocha instead of brown, sky instead of blue, these words evoke an emotional response to the color, increasing its emotional connection which is always a positive thing for selling."
Although some paint colors may seem odd or random, there is a method to the madness.
It's hard to look at certain paint color names, such as Lauren's Surprise, as anything but nonsense, but according to Dee and Misty, "there is definitely logic" to this process. "It should evoke the color in your mind. Like Apple Butter — it's the color of apple butter. Colors can also elicit emotional responses or memories. We try to do that association to make it more meaningful." If nothing else, Misty states, "We try to give the color personality."
That said, there are some . . . strange color names out there.
When asked about the strangest name suggestions they've heard or put forth, Misty said, "Kenny's Kiss. It's vibrant pink." For Dee, the strangest suggestion appeared in an "I Named a Paint Color" contest: Squished Caterpillar.
Naming colors isn't nearly as easy as it might seem.
It certainly seems like it would be easy breezy to name paint colors, but Dee and Misty are here to let you know it's really not. They can't reuse names (and there's a massive database of color names going back 50 years to prevent just that from happening), so as Misty says, "it becomes increasingly difficult to create new color names. This is why we like talking and getting new ideas from the public." Dee continues, "Sometimes the name comes to you right away. But other times if you have a hundred grays to name it is hard to find relevant and significant names."
The hardest colors to name? Neutrals. But asking kids for ideas can help!
According to Dee, neutral shades are the hardest to name because "there is such a fine line between the neutrals. People love beiges and there are tons of beiges and they are a struggle to differentiate." For Misty, it's muted greens. But Dee points out that they do ask for help: "We have consumer groups that get together to get some fresh color names for neutrals — and kids! Kids are so quick and creative with helping to name things in a refreshing way."