How Do Paint Colors Get Their Names?

Benjamin Moore Harbor Fog 2062-70 and Van Buren Brown HC-70 Paint color names, such as this Van Buren Brown and Harbor Fog from Benjamin Moore, evoke certain feelings or lifestyles. Image: Benjamin Moore

Curious, we talked to a few paint namers to find how paint colors are named. Plus, we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t also provide painting tips.

What’s in a paint color name?

Whether it’s Harbor Fog, Just Peachy, or Van Buren Brown, an enticing paint color name has the power to excite, persuade, and ultimately close a sale.

But no matter how much Crème Brulee or Butterscotch Tempest may whet your appetite for freshly painted walls, your satisfaction is going to come down to good surface prep, and selecting a top-performing paint.

Do paint names come from thin air?

Creating paint names is more serendipity than science. And, it turns out, no two paint namers name alike.

“There’s no book on this; very few people do this, and we all do things differently,” says Mary Lawlor, manager of color marketing for Kelly-Moore Paints. In a typical year, a professional paint namer may be asked to come up with hundreds of new names — all checked against a master databank of paint names for originality.

Flowers, which stimulate scent and sight, are wellsprings of inspiration. Places, such as the French Riviera or Monte Carlo, evoke enviable lifestyles. And fabrics — satin, cashmere, even mohair — recall texture and feel.

But nothing stimulates the color imagination like food, which adds taste to the mix of memories.

“Strawberry Parfait is good to taste, as well as look at,” says Leatrice Eiseman of the Pantone Color Institute. “Pink Flambe has an exotic connotation.”

Name aside, results matter

No matter what it’s called, a paint by any other name is still a paint. To get results you love, buy quality paints and take the time to prepare surfaces properly.

Top-rated interior paints recommended by Consumer Reports include:

  • Benjamin Moore Aura Satin ($60/gal)
  • Behr Premium Plus Ultra Satin ($33/gal)
  • Kilz Casual Colors Satin ($27/gal)

For good surface prep, follow these guidelines:

  • Know your paints, including which sheen to choose, and how low-VOC paints protect indoor air quality.

If you could name a paint color, what would it be?