Color Baby Names: A synesthete’s slant on the auras of names

By Shannon R.

Many people select a name for their child based mainly on the way the name sounds. If it’s appealing to them, that’s all that’s important. Then there are some who want a name to honor a family member or otherwise have some sort of personal significance. Others want the name to have a nice meaning, (though be careful of your sources, there’s a lot of incorrect etymological information out there!) taking a meaning at face value, looking for one that’s positive, while others might go deeper and choose one that has more significance or conveys an important idea to them.

And then there’s me: I consider all of the above–but I also have synesthesia, and that adds a whole extra dimension when it comes to choosing a name for my child.

Wikipedia defines synesthesia as “a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.” In my case it means that letters or combinations of letters have colors (I don’t literally see the colors, they’re just “ideas” that I “feel”), and entire names can also have textures, temperatures, personalities, scents, or evoke very vivid, random, complex images that seemingly have nothing to do with the name itself.

Take the name Rose: Rose does not make me think of roses, it conjures up a mahogany piano in a dark room full of candles, from a close-up side view, and it smells like Lemon Pledge. Ivy is a tall woman with curly red hair tucked under a black velveteen cloche, wearing a dark green wool pea coat, black boots, and black driving gloves, standing outside a shop on a quiet sidewalk in a city at night while it’s snowing, with a cup of hot chocolate in her hand—waiting for someone, but not sure who or why. Alice is a white linen sheet on a clothesline flapping in the breeze, seen from the view below it looking up at a very blue sky with a sun.

Some other examples: Olwen is a freckled, dark blonde girl dressed in white walking along the surf of a windy beach.  Dulcinea is thick and syrupy, like chocolate and caramel brownies.  Juliet is musical. Ezra is sandy. Phaedra is a kitchen maid in a pink calico dress and an apron covered with flour.  Genevieve is emeralds. Hamnet is a friar at a medieval feast. Somerled is a tall, thin young peasant man with bright blue eyes and blond hair who works diligently in the wheat fields all day, while nobody knows he harbors some mad archery skills.

To continue: Virginia is having tea in an English garden. Julian is a goblet of wine. Heidi is straw.  Everett is a forest. Brendan wears a flannel shirt., Cyril wears tweed. Peregrine has long dark hair pulled back and wears a tan damask waistcoat and poofy white sleeves as he stands on the bow of his ship.

As far as letters go, G is emerald green, E is a pastel (usually yellow, sometimes pink), C is sunny yellow, A is navy blue, R is red, H is gold, T is darker green, B is brown, N is orange, M is red, I is black, V is purple, O is white… Fun stuff!

So as a result, when I have a child who needs a name, it needs to comprise pretty colors, and its texture, personality, image, etc. also have to be pleasing to me. I don’t like names that are black, pink, sharp, or cold. For boys, my favorite names are warm, friendly, loyal, strong, and huggable. You want to be friends with them and they have nice beards and wear collared shirts and like roast beef and they probably tell really good (clean!) jokes.

My favorite girls’ names tend to be very loving and domestic. They wear aprons and bake the best cookies in the entire neighborhood. They are also intelligent, strong, and confident. They stand up for themselves and their family, are well-spoken in a discussion, and will beat you at Jeopardy.

That adds up to a lot of pressure for choosing a name. And I’m not sure if this makes selecting a name easier or harder. It certainly narrows choices down pretty easily, which can be a pro or con. There are only a handful of names that fit all these criteria. I suppose I should just be glad that my husband has similar tastes and not terribly strong opinions on the matter. I’m also very much an intuitive person, and in the end I will go with what just feels right. And so naming our children hasn’t been difficult for me at all. I enjoy how their names are so much more to me than just a sound or string of letters.

Shannon is a 28-year-old lifelong name nerd, hobby artist and writer, and Michigander, wife of seven years, and Stay-at-Home Mom of a talkative art and video game-loving 5-year-old boy and a silly pink and tools-loving 13-month-old girl.


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