The number of colors in the world expand far beyond the traditional colors of the rainbow. Scientists estimate that there are approximately 10 million colors out there, with many of them not having names. Yet, with so many colors to choose from, how is it possible to settle on the perfect name?
Color names come from a wide range of sources, such as other languages and words. Basic colors like black and white come from words meaning “burnt” and “shining” since that’s how the colors appear to us. Less common colors, such as chartreuse and vermilion, are French terms. In many cases, languages around the world label colors differently.
Colors With the Worst Names
With millions of colors out there, people needed to get creative to name them all. Not every color makes as much sense as the colors of the rainbow, and many of the names aren’t particularly flattering. The following 22 colors are some of the worst named colors in history.
RGB: 74, 153, 118
Smaragdine means “emerald green,” but it’s certainly not an elegant way to say it. It’s a deep green color, similar to the emerald color that won Pantone’s Color of the Year in 2013.
RGB: 228, 155, 15
Gamboge might sound unpleasantly similar to “garbage,” but it’s named after the gamboge tree, which has fruit of a similar hue. The color is a mustard-yellow pigment, and the name isn’t new to the English language. The term “gamboge” has been around since 1634, and people once used the fruit’s pigment as watercolor paint.
RGB: 255, 56, 0
Coquelicot is a more complicated word for poppy, used to describe the orange-red color of the famous flowers. Yet, it’s quite a mouthful in comparison to the name “poppy.”
4. Caput Mortuum
RGB: 89, 39, 32
Not only is Caput Mortuum an unflattering hue, but its meaning is just as peculiar. In Latin, this name means “worthless remains” or “dead head.” It’s a mixture of dark brown and purple colors, and it’s commonly used in alchemy and oil painting.
RGB: 252, 203, 79
This color name is misleading since it doesn’t look like ginger at all. Instead, it’s a bright yellow color with a hint of orange, often described as the color of ripe kumquats. However, other sources have argued that gingerline is actually a shade of red, mixed with violet or brown, which only makes the name more confusing.
RGB: 255, 221, 170
Sarcoline’s meaning is “flesh-colored.” Not only does this color look unusual on clothing, but it’s a rather peculiar name for a skin tone.
RGB: 255, 204, 136
It’s unclear why this shade of amber has such an unfortunate label. Yet, the color itself is quite popular since it’s frequently used in theater spotlights. In lighting, bastard-amber gives off a peach or pink glow, which often signifies sunrise or sunset during productions.
RGB: 59, 68, 75
With a name like arsenic, it’s hard for a color to be appealing. This hue is a mixture between dark blue and gray, and it’s named after the element called arsenic. Yet, not all forms of the element share the same hue as this dreary-sounding color.
RGB: 223, 255, 0
Most people are familiar with the name “chartreuse,” but when asked what color it is, many are puzzled. The name doesn’t fit this bright greenish-yellow color. It supposedly means “fun, liveliness, and vitality,” which also doesn’t suit the unexpected hue.
RGB: 232, 104, 0
Most people will probably think of different colors when they hear the word “exuberance.” Yet, this obscure color name is a Pantone orange hue. It has a lot to live up to, considering that the term means being full of energy and excitement.
11. Lusty Gallant
RGB: 255, 204, 204
This light pink color is named after a popular dance from Tudor, England. In the late 1500s, the dance’s name became linked to this color, but it’s unclear where the correlation is. Elizabethan writer William Harrison claimed that dressmakers back then commonly gave the colors of clothes bizarre names to help them stand out.
12. Goose Turd Green
Goose Turd Green
RGB: 84, 255, 162
Goose turd green is another odd name chosen by dressmakers in the 1500s. Today, it’s used to describe a wide range of green shades, especially related to yarn. Most of these shades don’t really look like what the color is named after, so it’s a very unflattering name for any color to be stuck with.
13. Puke Green
RGB: 154, 174, 7
Like goose turd green, puke green is one of the more repulsive color names. It’s typically used to describe a dark green color with an unpleasant yellow tint. However, William Shakespeare referred to stockings as puke-colored in Henry IV: Part I. In that case, the color was the name of a wool fabric, which is more of a dull brown shade.
RGB: 251, 242, 185
This color is often referred to as “banan.” The name is simple and not creative, considering that the color is similar to the hue of a ripe banana. If you say it fast, it sounds like “banana peel.”
RGB: 170, 0, 34
The word “incarnadine” is closely related to “incarnate,” which means “having bodily form.” By that definition, the color should be similar to flesh, but instead, it’s a dark red color. Shakespeare used incarnadine in Macbeth to describe something as blood-red.
RGB: 97, 86, 73
Labrador isn’t colored like a cuddly dog, but instead, it’s described as shades of brown, blue, or sometimes even tan. It gets its name from labradorite, which is a gray gemstone with a blue tint. Yet, it’s not close to the yellow and black coats of Labrador Retrievers.
17. Elephant’s Breath
RGB: 211, 202, 187
In real life, an elephant’s breath might not have an appearance, but as a color, it’s described as gray or brown. It was named by dressmakers in the 19th century, along with many other bizarre colors.
18. Drunk Tank Pink
Drunk Tank Pink
RGB: 255, 145, 175
Drunk Tank Pink is a pink shade that could easily be described as bubblegum-colored. While it has also been called “Baker-Miller pink,” drunk tank pink is the name that stuck. It was invented by two U.S. Navy Officers, and it has been known to have relaxing properties for humans. Thus, it has been used in studies of human temperament and to calm prisoners. Yet, the name doesn’t make it seem quite as resourceful.
RGB: 96, 130, 182
Glaucous is a somewhat similar color to periwinkle, but with a less charming name. It’s a blue-gray that’s like the color of a seagull’s wings. The color name has been around since 1671, but the term is used for more than just a color. Glaucous also refers to the powdery coating on grapes and plums, which are a similar shade.
RGB: 115, 134, 120
A quick internet search of “xanadu” might show you the film by Robert Greenwald. Yet, xanadu is also a color that’s a mixture of green and gray. The color is commonly seen in plants, especially in an Australian species called the Philodendron. Xanadu is also the name of an ancient city in Mongolia, China, which is where the unique plant also supposedly got its name.
RGB: 253, 238, 0
Aureolin was created in the 1850s to replace gamboge. Not only does gamboge have an unusual name, but the sap that it was named after got a bad reputation for making people sick. So, this bright yellow hue was meant to replace it, but “aureolin” still isn’t an appealing name, and it doesn’t match the bright, vibrant color.
RGB: 0, 116, 116
Finally, skobeloff is one of the most difficult color names to say. It looks just like teal, but with a name that’s more of a mouth-full. Yet, it’s a color that you probably see more often than you realize.
The Worst Named Colors Can Still Work
Not all colors are beloved and well-known like the classic ones in “ROYGBIV,” and many of the lesser-known colors are stuck with unfortunate names. Some of the names don’t suit the colors, others are unnecessarily hard to say, and a few are just plain silly.
Luckily, a color’s name doesn’t take away from its appearance. These badly named colors can still be part of excellent designs and artwork. Although you might want to omit sharing the names of these hues when explaining your color choices.