Let’s hear it for the true geniuses: the people who name paints | Emma Beddington

Recently, I went on an adventure to an alien and intimidating place, a real no-go area: Belgravia’s interiors shops. My best friend is trying to buy a flat and to energise her for this grim journey of owner ghostings, asbestos, incompetent agents and outrageous prices, she needed a bit of escapist fun looking at chi-chi paints.

Unfortunately, she brought me: a person with all the visual sensibility of a house brick (Terre D’Egypte? Porphyry Red?). I sat vacant and unhelpful as she discussed nuances of verdigris and celadon, interjecting when something obvious struck me. “That one is yellow!” I would say, with toddler-like delight; or, “I like that.” Mostly I looked at colour charts.

One brand’s paint names, I decided, mainly fell into two name categories: posh girl or posh girl’s pony. We had lots of fun working these out. Jonquil, Evie, Pomona, Clove, Tawny, Brick and Buff: girls (the last two surely boarding school nicknames). Pippin, Gladstone, Teddy, Tyrian and Pompadour: ponies. I hope the paint people wouldn’t mind this impertinence; after all, they came up with Cuisse de Nymphe Emue, which translates as “overcome nymph’s thigh” (it’s a subtle, blushing pink). You can’t call a paint that without your tongue (Red Ochre?) at least slightly in your cheek (Nicaragua?).

It’s endlessly mocked and parodied (most recently in a mobile phone ad: “Anaemic Moon? Scrubbed Cauliflower?”), but is any creative endeavour more challenging than naming paints? I used to write alluring descriptions of nondescript chain hotel rooms and that barely reaches the foothills of invention compared with a paint chart. How do they do it? I read up on the philosophy behind Farrow & Ball’s Elephant’s Breath (already fashionable in the 1870s, apparently) and how a paint was named Harajuku Morning (holiday memories and a playlist), but I’m none the wiser. The name choices never feel wrong to me, either: I often look at a baby and think, “No, you’re definitely not an Oscar”; I’ve never felt that about, say, a brown swatch of paint called Wainscot. These people are geniuses. Forget the Booker – there should be a prize for paint naming.

Emma Beddington is a Guardian columnist



I recently embarked on an adventure to a foreign and daunting place, a true no-go zone: the interior shops of Belgravia. My dear friend is in the process of buying a flat, and to lift her spirits amidst the challenges of dealing with absent owners, asbestos, inept agents, and exorbitant prices, she sought some escapism by exploring fancy paints.

Unfortunately, she dragged me along, a person with the aesthetic sense of a brick wall (Terre D’Egypte? Porphyry Red?). I sat there, clueless and unhelpful, as she delved into the subtleties of verdigris and celadon, only chiming in when something obvious caught my eye. “That one is yellow!” I would exclaim, like a child; or, “I like that.” Mostly, I just stared at color swatches.

I couldn’t help but notice that one brand’s paint names fell into two main categories: posh girl or posh girl’s pony. We had a laugh trying to decipher them. Jonquil, Evie, Pomona, Clove, Tawny, Brick, and Buff sounded like girls’ names (the last two could be boarding school nicknames). Pippin, Gladstone, Teddy, Tyrian, and Pompadour sounded more like pony names. I hope the paint company didn’t mind our playful categorization; after all, they named a color “Cuisse de Nymphe Emue,” meaning “overcome nymph’s thigh” (a delicate, blush pink). You can’t come up with a name like that without a hint of humor (Nicaragua?).

Naming paints may be endlessly ridiculed and spoofed (as seen in a recent mobile phone ad: “Anaemic Moon? Scrubbed Cauliflower?”), but is there any creative task more challenging? I used to write enticing descriptions of generic chain hotel rooms, but that pales in comparison to naming paint colors. How do they do it? I tried to understand the reasoning behind Farrow & Ball’s Elephant’s Breath (apparently trendy in the 1870s) and the inspiration for Harajuku Morning (memories of holidays and a playlist), but I’m still puzzled. The choices of names never seem off to me; I might look at a baby and think, “No, you’re definitely not an Oscar,” but I’ve never felt that way about a brown paint swatch named Wainscot. These paint namers must be geniuses. Forget the Booker Prize – there should be an award for paint naming.

Emma Beddington is a columnist for The Guardian.