Many babies share their names with colors. But which colors?
What color names are given most to babies? Do American baby names span the rainbow? And have our hue choices changed over time?
These seem like straightforward questions, but color usually takes a backseat to other word-name themes. The problem is that few color names are just colors—most do double-duty in other more common categories. Lilac and Ebony are botanical names; Emerald and Garnet are gems. Yet the colors they call to mind are essential to the impressions the names make.
To focus on color specifically, I looked at all of the color names given to American girls* in the 21st Century and compared them to the names given a century earlier. (*Colors are a female-dominated name category by a ratio of 10:1.) These color wheels show the top choices of each era, proportional to the total birth populations of their times.
As you can see, the color names of the early 1900s were hugely popular but concentrated in a few standard names, mostly in warm shades. The result hardly looks like a color wheel at all. Today’s color names are only modestly popular in comparison, but far more diverse. As popularity fractured, the names spread out to cover the whole spectrum. It’s a striking visual metaphor for our whole naming culture over the past 120 years.
Here are the two wheels again, sized equally for ease of viewing. Based on time period, relative popularity and hue, can you guess the top five color names of each era? Be warned that one of the colors is a little hard to pin down. Answers—and links to images with all the colors named—follow below.
1900-1920: 1. Rose 2. Hazel 3. Ruby 4. Violet 5. Olive
2000-2020: 1. Jade 2. Ruby 3. Violet 4. Hazel 5. Amber
The tricky color name is Hazel (#2 on the left, #4 on the right.) As a color, hazel is commonly used to describe eyes that are a mix of brown, green and sometimes amber. When it comes to a paint shade or RGB value, though, there turns out to be little agreement on exactly what color hazel is.
SEE THE FULL BABY NAME COLOR WHEELS WITH NAMES: