How the Paint Colors That Grace Your Walls Get Their Names

Top view of cans with paint and color palette on wooden background

What a dull world it would be if we only had black and white paint colors to decorate our walls with. Luckily, that is far from the case.

This post will go through how colors, and specifically paint colors, have evolved through time. We will also take a closer look at how paint color names are created by the manufacturers.

But first, let’s go back in time to a moment where things were only black and white.

Imagine a World of Black and White

Black and white wooden bridge

It is only the older generation that may remember television when it was only black and white. During that era, most people were simply excited to be able to see the programming on television; before that, people sat around the radio and listened to everything. Everything was based on imagination and imagery in one’s mind. Technical color began to enter our lives around mid-20th century.

Nevertheless, what is lacking in that scenario above? It obviously lacks the colors of actual life; everything aforementioned ignores the existence of color in the natural world. Since the beginning of time we have had color. Our natural resources all have color: the crystal blues and greens of our waters, the greens, blues and browns of our grasses and prairie lands, the myriad shades and hues of flowers and blooms.

Identifying the Colors in Our World

Colorful crayons lying on white background

Cousins Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith, founders of the Binney & Smith Co. of Easton, Pennsylvania, made history when they created the first “crayon” circa 1903 by developing a sturdy “stick” made of paraffin wax and nontoxic pigments. The first “color” was purportedly black. However, they went on to create various colors, and their huge box of Crayola crayons became the envy of many an elementary school student – especially the one with the crayon sharpener built right into the back of the box of 128 varied colors.

Crayola crayon color names could be considered a precursor to today’s paint color names. Remember “Burnt Sienna” as a child? Crayons were the color of your world as a child. Now, in adulthood, the colors of your “interior” world are paint colors.

Human’s Early Experiences With Colors

Children painting color wheel and palette with watercolor paints

In elementary school, you learned what was called “primary colors” and something called a color wheel. Although there were initially three primary colors introduced (red, yellow, blue), this expanded to an acronym of Mr. ROYGBIV, which referred to these seven colors of the color wheel: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet.

This entire dogma refers to the fact that most colors are made from mixing and making hybrids of other colors, i.e. blue + yellow = green, red + blue = purple, and so on.

The Effect of Colors on Adults as Consumers

Creative brain drawing illustrates that colors affect human behavior

Entire reference books have been written about the process of combining colors and how they affect marketing techniques, consumer behavior, supply and demand, and other dynamics of economics. But what exactly goes into naming colors in consumable goods such as paint colors? After all, it is likely that you will never enter any paint store for that matter and find paint colors with simple names like “Blue,” “Pink,” or “Yellow.”

Hence, how do human behavior/personality, marketing, and the color wheel form a synthesis that appeals to the modern day consumer? The best answer to that may be with the use of semantics and creative adjectives. Therefore, creatively naming paint colors generally revolves around four concepts: visual appeal, geography, emotions, and lastly, experiential imagery.

The Process of Creating Active Descriptive Paint Color Names

Illustration of an open magic book that creates visual imagery with pages of water and nature

What is Imagery? – Imagery uses all of the senses so that we can basically feel what we are reading, hearing, smelling, touching, or tasting. Hence, when it comes to house paints – interior and exterior – manufacturers want to use creativity that will inspire imagery. Why is this? Naturally, it is because they want you to buy their paints.

However, the process of coming up with these colorful and creative names that trigger such imagery can be surprisingly rigorous. Picture right now a room full of color specialists, marketing pros, and of course lawyers to keep copyrights in a straight line.

Research the online stores of almost any large paint manufacturer, and the color choices are daunting. However, they do at least break it down into categories, i.e. neutrals, whites and pastels, and then color wheel families like all blues or all reds.

Examples From One of the Largest Paint Manufacturers

Interior wall painting work table with color swatches and brushes

Following are some actual paint color names that were garnered from the paint manufacturer Sherwin Williams’ website:

  • In whites and pastels: “Polar Bear,” “Free Spirit,” and even foreign language spun “Fleur de Sel.”
  • Oranges that range all the way from “Captivating Cream” to foreign language spun “El Carmelo” (browns fall into this category.)
  • Visit blues with names like “Bora Bora Shore,” bent more toward greens, or span the range to purplish blues like “Let it Rain.”
  • Neutrals fail to seem stationary with names like “Sea Serpent” or “Drift of Mist,” which tend to lively imagery that defies the word “neutral.”

Many a DIY neophyte has discovered the hard way that if you run out of what you thought was typical “White” when painting your ceiling, you may end up re-painting the entire thing just by mistakenly thinking “all neutral colors are created equal.” Alas, there are myriad shades of whites and other neutrals as well.

Making a Well-Informed Paint Color Decision

Do not let the panorama of audacious color names be daunting when you are trying to pick out just the perfect color for your room/projects. In fact, you can easily obtain free paint color swatches/chips at almost any reputable paint or hardware store, or request them online.

TCX fashion, home and interior paint color chart with names, RGB and HEX codes