Design in Depth: What’s in a Color Name?

February 9, 2012

By Stacy Kunstel

Last fall I styled a shoot in New Hampshire that will appear in our March/April issue of New England Home, “Arrangement in Gray and White.†There was a room whose color I was so struck by that I had to ask the homeowner for the paint name and manufacturer. Now the reason I was inquiring about this color was because I was looking to change the walls in my own guest room from their weak-kneed pink (not my choice) to something more in line with Lisbeth Sander, the goth super-chick of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo fame. I was looking not for black, but something sooty and charcoalesque–darker than ash, but lighter than kohl eyeliner.

Photo by Laura Moss

Imagine my utter surprise when the homeowner revealed the name of the paint to me, and it had not a charcoal, black, ink or nighttime adjective around it. “Benjamin Moore Westcott Navy,†she replied.

“Navy? Are you sure?†And then, as if the light had been turned on, I saw the color in a completely different way–just because of its name.

I’d realized before this that there were colors I eschewed simply because I didn’t like what they were called. I don’t care how beautiful the hue, I would never coat my walls in (I’m making these up, but my apologies if they exist) something called Bruise or Stain or even Orangyouglad. And even if they would be fitting, I think Wine Stain, Puppy Tracks and Pepperoni Smear are just too much reality for anyone’s good.

So here are a few paint colors I wish they would consider renaming.

C2 Paints–Curtain Call (Too fatalistic.)

Farrow & Ball–Clunch (It just doesn’t sound pleasant!)

Benjamin Moore–Bunker Hill Green (We lost, no matter how valiantly.)

Behr–Purple Blanket (Seriously?)

Of course this is all in fun–I’m sure there are copywriters who agonize over most color names. But some, for me, are just much better than others.