The California Paints Blog

What's in a Name? An Inside Look at Naming Paint Colors

Posted on Mon, Jul 23, 2012 @ 04:44 PM

Paint Color Names

Imagine it’s a Saturday morning and you are walking into your local hardware store.  You approach the paint chip rack containing countless chips varying in shades, tints, and tones and feel completely overwhelmed.  You can’t even tell the difference between Lemon Juice and Springtime Dew!  In all this confusion, how are you going to pick just one?It's A Boy

Creators of many color related products foresaw this problem and have provided you with one other variable to aid in your decision making - its color name. With three seperate color palettes (almost 2,000 colors), California Paints color names are pretty creative. However, they still provide us with a means of navigating this colorful confusion! Say for instance you were picking out a light blue for a nursery.  Instead of muddling your way through the vast amount of light blues, California Paints has two perfect hues: ‘Oh Boy’ and ‘It’s a Boy’.  Color crisis averted all thanks to the magic of creative naming.

20th Century Colors of America

By far the best collection of color names belongs to California Paints' 20th Century Colors of America.  Each name has historical significance and coincides with the approximate dates the color was used during popular 20th Century design styles. How cool is that!? Lucky for us, Maryellen and Lindsay from California Paints' marketing department gave us an inside look into how these color names came to life.

Before we jump right in, let's pause for a moment to learn a little background about color names.  The purpose of a name is to create a connection to the audience whether it be a memory, a desire, or an emotion.  Color 'namers' set out to capture this connection using a wide variety of inspiration such as places, nature, play on words, and objects.  The ultimate goal: to sell you a paint in which you love both the color and the name!

20th century rack resized 600When creating the 20th Century of America Colors palette, California Paints wanted to take color naming one step further. Maryellen and Lindsay set out to create names and stories for all 130 colors that resonated with consumers. 

"We find that some designers are initially selecting colors for review by name not hue, based on the fact that they are inspired by or identify with the color name," stated Maryellen.

Getting these results wasn't all fun and games like some would assume (although they did have a blast)! A lot of research was involved. Lindsay added, "to begin the process, Historic New England provided us with supporting color documentation, including the use of certain colors from their historic home museums. Since there is actual documentation for each color (when, how, and where the color was used), we took advantage of this knowledge and matched the color's information with cultural themes that influenced its emergence in the nation's collective color history." Maryellen and Lindsay researched everything from fashion to novels, economic trends, and cultural events to gain inspiration for names that would correspond with Historic New England's data.  From there it was important that the names captured the essence of the color. "Color names don't have to be a literal description of the color. There is no "dark blue" found here, however we needed the color and the given name to have a connection that the viewer could understand."

What I didn't realize was the amount of work that was required after the names were picked. The newly created names were checked to avoid publishing duplicates of competitor color names. An extremely difficult feat, but color names were changed when appropriate. Further comparisons had to be made against color names California Paints had previously retired. That's a lot of names!

20th Century Color NamesMaryellen and Lindsay's favorite color stories:
1. Counter Culture
1960-1980 Post Modern 2. Skyscraper- 1960-1980 Post Modern
3. Gatsby Gold- 1920-1940 Art Deco/Art Modern 4. War Weary- 1940-1960 Mid-Century Modern & 1960-1980 Post Modern
5. Sock Hop
1940-1960 Mid-Century Modern.

Although it took some time, the process was extremely worthwhile. "The authenticity of the 20th Century Colors of America collection provides our users with confidence. No one has accomplished what we have."

To explore more of 20th Century Colors of America download the palette's collection of Color Stories (PDF) or visit

To learn more about Historic New England please visit

Topics: paint colors, 20th century paint colors, historic colors, color names

Subscribe Here!

Connect with Us

Most Popular Posts

Latest Posts