What's in a [Color] Name?
Jan 25th 2022
The large variety of color variations in the artist world is pretty amazing! Beyond “blue”, “green”, “yellow” and so on… the names of some colors have become a lot more specific. Ever wonder where those elaborate color names come from?
From flowers and foods… to chemical compounds and plenty of good ol’ Latin… to natural minerals, as well as some rather unconventional sources of being manufactured- colors have gotten their names from all over the world. Some are hard to pronounce, and even harder to spell correctly- and many of them have existed for centuries.
We’ve done a little research for you and made this list of a few colors of products that we carry here at Marker Supply with names/prefixes that may be unfamiliar to some. Which color they are, how they were named, and how the colors themselves are made is all fun information to explore!
Alice Blue- A pale tint of Azure Blue that was a favorite color of Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter Alice, who helped the color rise to popularity via fashion trends.
Alizarin Crimson- A deep red. From alizari, the French name for the Madder Root, Alizarin became the first natural pigment to be recreated synthetically in 1869.
Aubergine- The French, German, and British word for an eggplant, which this dark purple color is similar to.
Azure- Named from a mineral with an intense blue color, the Lapis Lazuli. The French called the color azur, and from there it was taken & first used in English in 1374 within a work of Geoffrey Chaucer.
Beech Green- A bright green that resembles leaves from Beech trees.
Beige- The French word for a natural wool that has not yet been bleached or colored and is still this pale brownish-gray color.
Bordeaux- A dark rose color that represents Bordeaux wine, a color also known in English as Claret.
Cadmium- A chemical compound that is widely used in making nickel-cadmium batteries. Most of the remaining cadmium supplies are used to make brilliantly colored red/orange/yellow pigments. Before the use of Cadmium, these color shades were troublesome to produce. This chemical allows these colors to be much more stable and lightfast.
Caput Mortuum- A variety of brownish purple, sometimes called Cardinal Purple. These Latin words literally translated mean “dead head” or “worthless remains”- as with similarly-colored rust being a useless residue left as some materials age.
Carmine- The word itself stems back several languages- from French carmin, taken from Persian carmir, which means “red, crimson”, taken from Sanskrit krimiga, meaning “insect-produced”. Carmine is a natural red dye extracted from dried, boiled insects.
Celadon- A pale green that is said to have come from the character Celadon, a shepherd in the 17th century French romance novel L’Astreewho always wore green clothing.
Cerulean- First named as a color in 1590, from Latin caeruleus, meaning “dark blue, blue, or blue-green”- and is also thought to be derived from the Latin word caelum, which means “heaven” or “sky”.
Chartreuse- A color halfway between yellow and green that was named after a French liqueur of the same name & hue, which took its name from the Chartreuse Mountains in France.
Delft Blue- A color name popularized by the brand Delftware. Delft Blue is a world-famous blue and white pottery type that has been produced in the city of Delft, Netherlands since the 17th century.
Ecru Beige- A pale, warm/yellowish gray that stems from écru, a French word meaning "raw/unbleached" that they used for describing such linen fabrics.
Esterel Brown- This color name comes from the Esterel Massif, a mountain range in France.
Fuchsia- From the original name "fuchsine", given to a pinkish-purplish-reddish colored dye patented by a French chemist in 1859.
Gentian- A family of intensely blue flowering plants. Gentian roots are commonly seen in beverage flavorings and herbal medicines.
Heliotrope- A pinkish-purple flower, "heliotrope" stems from the Greek wording for how plants turn the flowers toward the sun (helios = "sun", trepein = "to turn"). First used as a color name in 1882.
Hooker’s Green- This green got its name from botanical artist William Hooker, who in the 1800s created a special pigment for leaves.
Indanthrene- Sometimes spelled Indanthone, this bluish color was made from combining anthraquinone (an organic dye) with indigo.
Ionian Green- A teal-like green from the Ionia region in Ancient Greece.
Kelly Green- Came around in the early 1900s, as both the color green and the family name Kelly were both super popular in Ireland.
Lapis Blue- Named from a mineral with an intense blue color, the Lapis Lazuli.
Madder- Common name for a species of Rubia plants. Red-colored dye is harvested from their roots. When this dye is mixed with a metallic salt to form paint pigments, they become “Lake” pigments- giving us a color called Madder Lake.
Magenta- A blend of pink, red, and purple also often called fuchsia, from the name fuchsine that was given to a colored dye patented in 1859 by a French chemist. That same year, it was renamed following the French victory in the Battle of Magenta, which took place in the small town of Magenta, Italy.
Marseille Yellow- A bright yellow named after the sunny-sky city of Marseille, which is officially the sunniest major city in France.
Mauve- A pale purple named after the Mallow flower, which in French is Mauve.
Mummy Brown- Originally made from… yep, you guessed it… ground-up Egyptian mummies. When artists became aware of these origins in the 1800s, its popularity greatly decreased. Rumor even has it that some artists buried their paint tubes out of respect for the dead. Pigments with this name are modernly made with natural minerals.
Naples Yellow- First made in the Naples region of Italy. In its true form, rarely used today, it is a highly toxic pigment due to lead. One of the oldest synthetically-made pigments, it got its English name in 1738.
Ochre- From a Greek word meaning pale yellow. A natural “earth pigment” that was a popular paint for prehistoric man. Evidence of it being used in cave paintings has been dated to 75,000 years ago.
Payne’s Grey- A blueish-grey color named after 18th century watercolor painter William Payne. Often used to mix other colors, as it’s less intense than pure black.
Peridot Green- A gemstone that is found in only this one color, an olive-green. The name has been suggested to have come from classic Latin paederot, a type of opal.
Phthalo Blue/Green- Synthetic blue pigments made from Phthalocyanine dye.
Process colors (Process Blue, Process Yellow, etc.)- Non-standard colors that are processed using only printing ink colors Cyan, Yellow, Magenta, and Black.
Reflex Blue- The common name for a certain group of blue pigments used in the manufacturing of printing inks.
Reseda- A green color named after the reseda plant- an extremely fragrant herb often used in perfume and potpourri.
Rhodamine- Stemming from the word Rhodo, Latin for rosy pink.
Saffron- A golden yellow found in the saffron crocus flower.
Sanguine- A reddish-brown color that comes from the Latin sanguis, meaning blood.
Sardonyx- A brown gemstone composed of both sard and onyx stones. The hue changes between yellowish-reddish-brownish depending on how much iron oxide the stone contains.
Sedum- A pale blue that comes from the Sedum plant family.
Sepia- A rich, reddish-brown pigment taken from the ink sac of a type of cuttlefish classified within the Sepia genus.
Shiraz- This reddish-purple color comes from the Syrah grapes that also produce the popular wine of the same name. The people of Shiraz, capital of the Persian Empire, claim these grapes originated in their city.
Sienna, Raw/Burnt- A naturally occurring pigment, one of the very first to be used by humans with cave paintings, etc. In its natural state (raw) it is a lighter, more yellowish-brown. When heated up (burnt) it darkens and becomes more reddish-brown. Officially named in 1760, it gets its name from the city Siena, where it was produced in Renaissance times.
Taupe- Named from the same word taupe that means "mole" in French, it started to be used as a color name for the mix of brown and grey that was the most common color of this animal.
Ultramarine- Named in English in 1598 from Latin ultramarinus = “beyond the sea” (since it had to be imported into Europe via ship). In the Middle Ages, this was the finest and most expensive blue pigment.
Umber, Raw/Burnt- An earth pigment taken from the Umbria Mountains in Italy. Similar to Raw/Burnt Sienna, except darker in color.
Veridian- A blue-green pigment that was translated into English in the 1860s from the Latin word for “green”- Viridis.
Vermilion- A brilliant red color that got its name from its resemblance to a similarly-colored red dye made from an insect, the Kermes Vermilio. First used as an English word in 1289.
Wild Heather- A purplish color named after Heather flowers, which are famous throughout Europe.
Wisteria- First used as a color name in 1892. Named after the flower, which is light lavender in color.
Interesting stuff, eh?! How many of those colors were you aware of their origin?
All of these colors and more can be found throughout various markers, pens, and pencils in our Marker Supply webstore. Go have a look!