When I was about 15, I got hooked on some weird documentary show, which I think aired on Fox, that covered medical mysteries. Episodes were broken down into 15-minute segments in which an individual’s bizarre medical malady, and its subsequent cure, were chronicled with much dramatic background music and equally fraught reenactments. It came on every Wednesday night, and watching it was part of my weekly ritual. About halfway through the summer, there was an episode on synesthesia and I was floored.
I had no idea there was a name for what I had, nor any notion that others experienced the phenomenon.
Synesthesia is a neurological condition. A condition, not a disorder, because it doesn’t really cause any perceptible damage to those who have it. It’s a sort of scrambling of the senses, in which stimulation of one sense triggers the involuntary response of another sense. People may feel a song, or taste a poem, or hear a picture. I guess I’m a basic bitch when it comes to synesthesia because my form is the most common. I have graphite-color synesthesia, which means I associated noises, letters, and words with colors and occasionally shapes. Sound is always accompanied by a distinct color and sometimes a pattern. (This is why I’m hypersensitive to noise, and you guys can’t make fun of me for that anymore, you hear that Carrie, Matt, and Andrew?) I do not always see the color in a literal sense—although I sometimes do—but I rather get a strong internal sense of a color. My brain’s basically airing a private screening of Fantasia in my mind’s eye 24/7. An alarm clock beeping is a thin red line. It just is. You envision a pineapple when someone says pineapple, and when I heard a bleep, bleep, bleep, I envision the red line without pause.
The iteration of my synesthesia people find most interesting is how each name has a color. My friend Carrie calls this my party trick. Very few names do not have an inherent color behind them, and these colors are usually grouped by letter. People love hearing the color behind their name. So y’all no longer have to ask, and because I’m too busy this week to write a real column, I’m giving you the definitive list of the colors associated with names.
Please do not get angry if you wanted your name to be a different color. As my father used to say, “People in hell want ice water. We don’t always get what we want.”
I am a big, big fan of A-names as the bulk of A-names fall somewhere on the spectrum of red. While red is not my all-time favorite color, I feel it’s probably the most likable colors in existence. Does anyone not like red?
A-names followed by M’s, N’s, and D’s tend to be brighter. Amy, Ann, and Addie (and all it’s variations—Adele, Addison, Adelia, etc.), for example, are a bright cherry, almost orange-ish, red. Softer vowels following an A, or the letter R following an A, create darker shade. Austin, August, Arnold, and Arthur, for example, are somewhat rust-colored with some scarlet undertones. Names followed by a B (Abigail/Abby Abner, Abel) tend to fall on the scarlet side.
Pronunciation also affects color. The name “Ana” for example is sometimes pronounced like the traditional Anna, but sometimes pronounced “Aw-na.” The softer “aw” sound produces a darker red than the Ann-sound.
B-names are usually orange but sometimes indecipherable. The color behind them is often very faint. Sometimes, I can see the color but am unable to quite name what I’m seeing because the vision is so weak. This is something like trying to remember an image or sound from a dream, or the precise words to a song you knew a long time ago. The memory’s so skeletal you lack the ability to describe it. Bridget and Blair fall into this category, which is odd as R’s usually help B-names become more distinct. An R in a B-name tends to darken the color. Names like Barbara, Brooke, Bernie, and Brett are a tawny reddish shade of orange, a color I think would be described as “burnt sienna” if you purchased a sweater in this shade at a Target. The R-rule is not 100% though. Brian and Brianna are definitively orange, but a bit paler—like the color of a mildly overripe orange. Softer vowels tend to make the orange a lighter, tangerine shade. Examples include Bill, Ben, Bella, and Beth.
Always blue, but with great variations as blue itself is a versatile color. C-names that are followed by A tend to be a brighter shade of blue. Carrie is cobalt blue, as is Carolyn and Carl. The presence of a soft sound near the C tends to produce a paler blue. Christopher and Cory are pale blue, verging on periwinkle with gray undertones. Ch-names pronounced with a soft “chuh” sound are a pleasant shade of gray-blue. Sometimes, Ch-names come with patterns in addition to a color. Chelsea, for example, is gray-blue dappled with flecks of white.
People with D-names hate me because D-names are exclusively brown, and the knee-jerk anger over this beautiful color baffles me. Brown is an insanely underrated color, especially as D-names tend to be on the spectrum of deep, hazel browns. They verge from soft, light iterations of this shade—Della, Diana, Dennis, Daryl—to very deep browns—David, Daniel, Dora, Denise. Imagine the darkened nose and stockings of a bay Thoroughbred horse and you would have the dark brown of D-names. So, if you have a D-name, don’t think of your name as dirty or ugly. Think of it as a glorious race horse.
E names, especially feminine varieties, shimmer. I’m not sure they have a color, exactly, so much as they contain the ability to produce light. They are all truly beautiful. E-names mostly come with a bright, white glow. Eve, Eli, Elizabeth, Evangeline, Eloise, Elise, Ellie, and Elsa all shimmer white light. Elizabeth (which, in my opinion, is a 5 star name) has gold undertones mixed within the light. However, vowel names—especially soft vowels like E which produce a somewhat indistinct sound—are easily overpowered by stronger consonants. Names with a D or an R—Edward, Edmund, Earl—produce a sort of smoky, nearly gray off-white shade. The presence of an L and an N—both of which are very yellow letters—can sometimes overpower the shimmering of E and produce instead a muted shade of yellow. Eleanor and Ellen, for example, are very pale yellow.
Typically green, but like B-names the color is often indistinct. The green is usually pale here, to the point of undetectable. I could not tell you what color “Fern” is, although I see some green, nor could I precisely defined the color behind “Faith,” although I think I see a slight yellow glow there. The presence of an R can help define the green. Francis/Frances, as well as Frank or Frankie, and Fred/Freddie are deep, mossy green. However, F seems to be overpowered by yellow letters as easily as E. Franny—where the N’s are pronounced with more distinction—is a sickly yellow. Felice is also a yellowish shade, and Fiona and Flora are yellow-green, like the skin of a yellow apple.
Distinctly green, but in a wide variety of shades. Greta is a lovely pale green, almost sea green. R usually tends to make the green darker, though. George, Gregg, Garret, Grace, and Garrison are all a strong, vibrant, somewhat mossy greens. The presence of an A or an E lightens the green shade a bit. Gabriel/Gabrielle, and all their variations, are a bright green. Glen and Gwen are a lovely pale green.
I apologize if you have an H-name or have a child with an H-name. This is my least favorite letter as I so, so dislike the color. This makes me sad as there are a lot of H-names—Holly, Henry, Harper, Harriet, Hazel, Hart (my own middle name!)—that I find to be musically attractive, but the color lingering underneath bothers me. It’s on the brown spectrum, but not the attractive racehorse brown found in D-names. It’s more of a tan or a dun really, something like coffee diluted with slightly too much cream or milk. There is very little variation in H-names. They are nearly always that same dusty tan that I simply dislike. If you have an H-name, I hope you are far fonder of this creamy coffee color than I.
Similar to “E,” but without the shimmering. I’s are almost always some kind of white, but often a dull white. Isaac and Isaiah are grayish off-whites. Isabelle is a brighter white, but with a goldish undertone. Yellow is apparently an overpowering color, because I-names that contain a yellow letter usually come out extremely, extremely pale yellow, a color that would probably be frequently mistaken for white if used to paint a room. Ingrid, Ilene, and Inez are all pale, pale, nearly white yellow.
Red, with very, very few exceptions. J-name, the bulk of the time, come in more defined shades of red than A-letters. They are rarely pale and rarely have any orange undertones. Jake, Jane, Jack, Jayden, Jay, Jade, and Jason are all a simple, primary red. Joseph, Joshua, Jennifer, Justin, and Julie/Julia are a darker red, while Jessica and Jesse are lighter reds. James and Jamie are quite dark, like old blood, and names with a strong R sound almost always come out quite dark. Jeremy and Jerome, for example, are the color of dried cherries.
In regards to the very common Jon/John/Jonathan, however, things get tricky. I have no idea wtf is going on with this shit. I almost always default to tan when I hear the name Jon/John pronounced, as that horrid H overpowers everything else in the name. As John is the more common spelling in my experience, I picture the name in my mind as spelled “John.” If I learn the name is spelled “Jon,” it will turn light blue, the same shade as Jonathan, which is unusual as this is the only J-name I can think of offhand that is not red. I am not sure whether it’s the spelling or the sound of a name that produces a color. I suspect it’s a combination of the two.
Speaking of spelling versus sound, things get even more complicated here. K’s are often pink, but occasionally light blue. As K makes the same sound as C, K-names are often the same color as their C counterparts. Sometimes, though, they are not. There is no difference in the blue of Carl than the blue of Karl regardless of spelling, as I very much think of Carl as a name that starts with C. The same is true for Kassy/Cassie, which generally comes out blue. Cory/Kory is another example, always blue. Kate is usually bright pink. However, I knew a Cate once whose name appeared pink until she added me on Facebook. After seeing her name was spelled with a C, I began seeing it as the same light blue of Catherine. Katherine, however, is a bright pink shade. Go figure. Fucking synesthesia. How does it work?
When a name is definitively K, it is frequently pink, although the shade ranges greatly. Pink is my favorite color, so if you have K-name I probably like hearing your name. Kristen/Kiersten/Kirsten, as well as the name Karen and Kathleen, are a color often referred to as “chatham pink” when used in home décor. It’s the kind of muted pink you can expect to find on doll’s clothes from the late ‘70’s—a kind of Chatty Kathy, old school nursery-friendly variety. Names like Kiera, Kara, Kinley, Kyra, Kelly, Kayla, or Kelsey are brighter pinks, bouncier more fluorescent tones without quite being hot pink. Some random K-names appear as blue, even if they’re not traditionally spelled with a C. Kyle and Kevin are light blue, as are Kitty and Kai. A lot of the newer, somewhat trendy unisex K-names—Kayden, Kaelyn, etc.—are also light blue.
L, M, and N are all very yellow. I am fond of yellow, so I’m fond of most names that begin with these letters. L is the darkest of the yellows, producing mostly golden rod shades. Some L-names are darker than others. Lucy, Lydia, Lily, Layla, Lulu, and Lola tend to be lighter than names like Luke, Logan, Liam, Louis, and Lottie, which are more gold than yellow. Some names—like Larry and Lori—come out quite dark, a very deep golden shade. I think this is because of the presence of R, which tends to darken names.
These tend to produce essentially the same range of colors, so I’m grouping them together. Almost all M/N names are yellow. I can think of no M/N names that aren’t some shade of yellow. Some shades are very light. Nick, Mindy, Nigel, Mike/Michael, Meredith, and Marilyn tend to be a very light shade of yellow. Canary yellow is frequently associated with M-names, but rarely with yellow names. Names like Maggie, Mark, Mabel, Max, Molly, Madeline, and Maddison are all canary yellow. However, N-names with a lot of vowels tend to be canary yellow. Naomi is an example, as is Natalie. Certain names, often featuring R’s or H’s, come out darker. Nathan is a shade of dirty yellow, like when you accidentally mixed a bit of black into your yellow crayon as a child. Margaret/Marguerite is also this color.
As my brain is so deeply scrambled regarding senses, the strong yellow associations of the L/M/N grouping can get confusing. Sometimes, in my mind, I will find myself thinking the name “Lucy” begins with an “M” or that “Luke” must be spelled “N-u-k-e.” If I’m writing a character with an L/M/N name, I will sometimes accidentally spell that character’s name incorrectly. While I catch the error right away, it happens more frequently than I’m confident admitting. If your name is “Max,” please don’t get offended if I accidentally return your email and begin by saying, “Hi, Nax!”
Like many soft vowel names, a somewhat translucent whiteish color that’s easily overpowered by the presence of stronger letters. Owen is pale, pale, faint gray-white. Opal goes pink due to the presence of a P. Oscar—due to the hard sounds—comes out a slate-ish gray color. On occasion, O can also produce orange. Oliver is distinctly orange, and yet Olivia is one of those odd indefinable colors. Olivia has a bit of green, and produces a white shimmer, but I cannot quite define it. O-names are probably the hardest names when it comes to color identification. If you have an O-name, I unfortunately may not be able to give you a color.
In the pink/red spectrum, P-names usually fall from a bright pink to a muted pinkish-red shade. Some, however, are outright red. Penelope and Penny are lovely shades of cherry pink. Paul and Perry are faded pastel reds with some pink hues. Patrick/Pat/Patty are all red, although Patty is a much lighter shade than the primary red behind Pat and Patrick. Some P-names come out very dark, usually if they contain darker lets like T’s and R’s. Peter is a rusty red, for example, and Persephone is a kind of reddish pink. And don’t say, “Who’s actually named Persephone?” THERE WAS A GIRL NAMED PERSEPHONE WHO LIVED ON MY FLOOR MY SOPHOMORE YEAR OF COLLEGE, OKAY!?
Q is a tough one because, honestly, how many people do you know whose names start with Q? As I don’t hear Q-names a lot, it’s hard to say off-hand what color they tend to be. Quentin and Quinn both shimmer, like E-names, but with Quentin I see some gray mixed in the glow.
R is a very dark letter. Nearly all R-names are brown. This is a vastly darker brown than D-names. It’s the sort of almost black brunette shade of some people’s hair. There is very little variation here, although there are some exceptions. Rosemary and Rosemarie, for example, are combo names, so they produce a kind of illogical color gradient. I see a wash of color running from right to left that begins almost black and morphs into a deep yellowish shade with a few hints of red.
There is one very special R-name. Not only is this name not brown or black, it is the only name I have ever heard that produces a purple color. It’s a lovely deep velvet purple, which is why I treasure this name and view it as superior to any other name in existence. That name is Ramona. Maggie Gyllenhaal is a goddess for choosing it for her daughter.
Always blue, but with great variation like C-names. Some names tend to be a brighter cobalt shade: Steve, Stephen, Samantha, Stella, Stuart. Soft sounds in the name tend to produce a lighter shade, occasionally gray-blue. Seth is a soft, but very attractive shade of blue. Shay, Sherman, Shane, and Sarah produces a variety of gray-blue shades. Sophie and Sofia are also on the gray-blue spectrum, but tend to be a slightly paler – nearly white in some ways.
T-names are more or less the same as D-names color wise. They are all brown, but that awesome thoroughbred snout/stalking brown. Tracey, Theodore, Tara, Tobias, Trevor, Tim/Timothy, Troy, and Truman are all the dark shade. I have a friend Tracey whose hair color is the exact color of her name, which makes me irrationally happy. It just feels right.
Some T-names, however, do produce a light brown, which is a rarity for D-names. Tina, Tessa, Tiffany, Tyler, Ted/Teddy, and Todd all come out light brown, something like the color of wet sand.
As with X, how many U-names are there? Really? There was some kid in my high school named Ulan, but as that’s not a name I have ever heard since, I’m not sure what the fuck that was about…
The only other names I can think of are Ursula and Ulysses, which I doubt will make the Top 10 list of baby names any time soon. All of these names are grayish, so I’ll just call U-names mostly gray until further notice.
A lot of variation here. A lot. Often Brownish, sometimes black, but occasionally green and sometimes shimmering white. Veronica is green, albeit a mossy brownish green, as is Vivien/Vivian and Valerie. Virginia is a shade of green often used as the backdrop of maps you read in a middle geography text book. Victor and Vincent are black. Victoria shimmers white, but Vicky is moss green. V-names are confusing…
Off-white and usually unattractive. I’m sorry if you have a W-name. Please don’t hate me! There isn’t a lot of variation here. I believe this color would be called “egg-shell white” when labeled at a paint store? Sometimes, there are gray flecks or yellow undertones, which make the names slightly more attractive. Whitney has gray flecks, and Winnie produces a light yellow glow. Walter, however, is simply eggshell white, as is Wally, Willow, Wayne, Wendall, and William/Will.
Yet again, how many X-names are there? The only X-names I know are Xena, gray, and Xiomara, the name of Jane’s mother on Jane the Virgin. Also slate gray. Going to go ahead and claim X-names tend to be gray.
Always yellow with very little variation, but a kind of murky yellow like the color of chicken noodle soup broth. Names with an “ee” sound somewhere do tend to be a more canary yellow though. Yancy, for example, is somewhat canary yellow, but honestly. Are there any baby boys born in 2016 being named Yancy? I mean, no judgment. Just saying, like X and Q names, I don’t have a big pool to pick from here.
Black, and as black does not really provide any variation in shade or tone, there’s no need to elaborat heree. Just simple black. Like what I imagine death is. An eternity of deep and impenetrable black. So, like, let’s all eat, drink, and be merry while we can. Oh, yeah. Ending on a pleasant note. Awesome.