Calamine pink, or Dead Salmon? What’s behind paint names

Kim Cook

AP – Ever wonder how paint colours get their names? If you’re shopping for pink, say, you’ll find dozens of shades referencing roses, bubblegum and shells. There are some extra-evocative names like Calamine and Dead Salmon. And what about a pink called Harajuku Morning? Modern Love?

Names can sway a person, said New York designer Daun Curry.

“We once had a client choose one paint colour over another because the name was Peace and Happiness,” she said.

More often, we pick a shade because we like it, said colour consultant Debra Kling of New York, and “the names’ associations serve to augment our feelings about the hues”. She warned clients that paints when applied can look very different from their names: Creams, especially, easily veer into yellow territory, even when there’s no hint of that hue in their name.

Natalie Ebel, co-founder of the direct-to-consumer paint company Backdrop — which is behind Harajuku Morning and Modern Love — said that choosing the right names for paint colours is essential.

Photo shows a room with Benjamin Moor’es 2020 Color of the Year called First Light, a dreamy, soft shade of pink. PHOTOS: AP
In this child’s room, the colour is Farrow & Ball’s Dead Salmon – a popular hue in the company’s palette, albeit with a name that causes some mixed feelings

“We encourage customers to not just paint their walls, but create their backdrop,” she said. “So each name was chosen to evoke an emotional connection; we were inspired by real people, places, things and moods.”

Farrow & Ball is known for creative naming; their latest Colour By Nature palette, made in collaboration with London’s Natural History Museum, was inspired by Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours, an 1814 guide that cross-references hues with markings and colourations found in nature. Scotch Blue, for example, suggests both the throat of a blue titmouse and copper ore.

Time and place also provide inspiration, said Farrow & Ball’s colour consultant Joa Studholme.

“Occasionally, the paint name comes almost before the colour.

“Plummett was mixed after an afternoon spent fishing on the river, where the colour of the lead used to weight the fisherman’s line was a thing of such beauty that it just begged to be added to the Farrow & Ball palette,” she said. Studholme shares the backstories on two Farrow & Ball pinks, Calamine and Dead Salmon, “For many people of a certain age, Calamine lotion was an intrinsic part of early life. Applied to treat scraped knees, stings and the general travails of a lively childhood, it was always of comfort. And what was more calming, the actual lotion or its extraordinary delicate colour? It certainly creates soothing rooms in the modern world,” she said.

As for the fishy one, the name was found on a decorator’s invoice dated 1805 for a library. “Salmon is the colour, and Dead actually refers to the matte paint finish,” Studholme said.

Another rosy paint that Studholme thinks is well-named was inspired by the soft, feminine shade found in traditional ladies’ private quarters. But “Boudoir Pink” didn’t sit right, she said.

“So, we spent time considering how the boudoir got its name, only to discover it comes from the French bouder, meaning ‘to sulk’. Thus, Sulking Room Pink was born,” she said.

Pink has enjoyed a favoured position in the colour pantheon since at least 2014, when movie director Wes Anderson clad his Grand Budapest Hotel in the hue. That was followed by rose gold fever. Colour company Pantone designated light pinks as signature colours in both 2016 and 2017.

Paint marketers generally like names that are aspirational, that stir the imagination. First Light is Benjamin Moore’s 2020 Colour of the Year, a dreamy, soft shade of pink. The company’s Director of Colour Marketing and Development Andrea Magno said that while the colour was already part of Benjamin Moore’s 3,500-hue library, “it’s always fortuitous when the trend concept and colour name complement one another. While descriptions like `light pink’ are quite straightforward, we also look for names that evoke positive associations and experiences”.

PPG Paint’s Senior Colour Marketing Manager Dee Schlotter said Linen Ruffle is the top pink requested on the company’s Paintzen platform. It’s a pale, taupe-tinged white with a pink undertone, named to evoke images of ruffly pillows and curtains.

And what about Kenny’s Kiss or Salsa Diane, two other pinks in the PPG collection? The former was named after an employee’s dog; the latter after a colour lab stylist’s beachy dress.

HGTV Home by Sherwin-Williams’ Colour of the Year is Romance, another gentle pink with a name that stirs feelings.

Ebel, of Backdrop, said pinks have been the most fun to name.

“I wanted to keep the colours and names approachable for people like me — I wasn’t a huge pink person before Backdrop,’’ she said. “Harajuku Morning was inspired by a trip we took to Tokyo in 2016. The colour is bright, airy and fun, and reminded us of the playfulness of Takeshita Street, but in the morning before the crowds. Modern Love was inspired by one of my favourite New York Times columns — the colour makes me think of the beautiful, messy feelings that come with relationships,” she said.

Just like the beautiful, messy relationship we all have with the brushes, rollers and paint colours we bring home.