Colours as surnames

There are some surnames in the ‘Western’ English-speaking world based around colours - but there seem to be limits.

White, Black, Green, Brown.

But I’ve not seen a Mr. Red, or a Miss Yellow. No Ms. Blue, or even a Mrs. Orange.

Why is this, do you think? And do other cultures and languages have more variety in their colour ranges for names?

The Legend Of PigeonMan

  • Shadow of the Pigeon -
    Weirdo of the Night

Some other color-names are undoubetly out there. Remeber Vida Blue, 70s pitcher for the Oakland As? Gray is a common surname. Silver, gold, and rose are colors, even if derivatively.

What did they do in Reservoir Dogs?


I do personally know a family with the surname “Blue.”

“If our lives are indeed the sum-total of the choices we’ve made, then we cannot change who we are; but with every new choice we’re given, we can change who we’re going to be.”

From Surname meanings

“Blau is a German nickname, from Old High German blao = blue, and was given in several senses – the person who almost always wore blue clothing, the man with blue eyes, or the man with the pale or bluish complexion (generally not a sign of good health). Blauer, Blauert are German variations. Plabst, Plab are found in Bavaria. Blauer is also a Jewish variation. Cognate forms also exist in several languages include Blue (English); De Blauw, Blauw, Blauwaert (Flemish); Blaauw (Dutch).”

From More surname meanings

“Brown. One of the more common surnames, a character name or nickname. Among the light-skinned English anyone with a darker complexion, brown hair, tendancy toward brown clothing, etc. were often described that way, and it stuck as a surname. There are a number of derivatives in many countries.
The surname Brown, which is borne by Americans of both African and European ancestry, is of nickname origin, being derived from the Old Norse “brun”, meaning “brown”. It would appear that the nickname first began to be recorded as a last name in the thirteenth century when we read of one Conan filius (son of) Brim, who is registed in the Assize Rolls of Lincoinshire, in the year 1209. In the Pipe Rolls of Northamptonshire there is a record of a William le Brim. John le Browne was also recorded in 1318 in the Feet of Fines in Cambridgeshire. The name also appears as a first name in the Domesday Book, suggesting a derivation from a male given name. The surname Brown was introduced to the United States at a very early date.”

It seems most of the origins of the color surnames involve descriptions of the people or their clothing. Since surnames were usually acquired during a certain historical time period (varying among cultures?) it would seem that whatever color names, or even clothing dye, popular at the time would be used. Brown, White and Black would be good desciptions of skin color. I suppose Pink would be as well but Merriam Webster lists its’ earliest use as describing a color as originating in 1678, after many surnames developed. Perhaps the other lesser used colors are in the same boat.

Note, the above was just my WAG

A lot of color names seem to center around eye color: Blue, Green[e], Brown, even Hazel. Skin or hair color also seems to play a role: Weissmann, Edelman (Snow-man), Blackmun, Schwartzenegger, Redmon[d]. As Asians don’t self-style themselves “yellow,” it seems sensible that the name isn’t prevalent. Place names, of course, are some of the most common, as that was a sort of surname for a very long time: Joseph of Aramathy, Leonardo da Vinci, Laecedamonian Ajax, etc.

As Cece has taught us, other color names such as “orange” appeared in language far later than the basic ones, so it stands to reason that they don’t occur as often. Surnames, after all, only came into common use when there were enough people who travelled around enough to require the distinction.

Well… no. (Take a look at my profile, why dontcha :wink:

I didn’t know that about the name ‘Blue’… Thanks guys, you’re amazin’. I guess it makes sense that the limited range of colours in use, and the expansion of names (like Redmond etc) covers all of what i was wondering.


The Legend Of PigeonMan

  • Shadow of the Pigeon -
    Weirdo of the Night

I beg to differ–a little bit anyway. “Yellow” is a common last name–just not in English.

The word for yellow in German is “gelb.” Common American last names: Gelb, Gelber. (note that these are often Jewish surnames. Why? I dunno.)

Also, IIRC, the Chinese for yellow is “huang.” There are lots of Chinese Americans names Huang or Hwang.

I remember one of the members of Take That [ yeah, I know] being Jason Orange. There are also one or two oranges in my local phone book.

Well, bear in mind how last names came into being- in a mideieval English village, most people didn’t have last names. Now, if there were 5 guys in the village named John, how were people to describe them? If the town butcher told his apprentice to take some meat to “John’s house,” the kid wouldn’t know which house to bring it to. So, the butcher would have to add a description. This description might be:

  1. Occupation. “Bring this meat to the house of John the Baker” (or John the Miller, the Smith, the Barber, the Carpenter, etc.) Even today, lots of family names refer to an ancestor’s line of work.

  2. Ancestry. Or “Take this to John, Robert’s son” (or Richard’s son, or William’s son, etc.). Loads of names (including those that begin with “Fitz,” “Mac” or "O’ " fall into the same category).

  3. A Physical description. John the Short, John the Long, John the Brown (tanned), John the Black (black haired), John the White, etc. If your last name is an adjective, it probably described one of your ancestors!

Pretty much ANY color that could be associated with a physical trait has become a last name. If there are no people named “John Orange” or “John Purple,” maybe that’s because there aren’t many people with naturally orange eyes or purple hair!

I believe the word “orange” derives from the fruit which was a quite recent arrival to europe from Asia via the Arabs who brought it to Spain… The fruit requires warmer weather than England has so I would think most English had never seen an orange until the 19th century when commerce would bring some but they would be rare and expensive as perishables. wealthy families built special greenhouses called “orangeries” to grow orange trees.

I have a vague recollection that Cecil addressed the ethymology of the word “orange”

If the first use as an adjective in English was 1620, a more interesting question might concern the House of Orange in the Netherlands. The Principality of Orange seems to have existed in southern France before it was inherited by the House of Nassau in sixteenth century. “William of Orange”, of course, entered English history in the late 17th century. “Orange” is the name of a French town, also, with well-preserved Roman ruins, which does not suggest when or why it was named “Orange”. BTW, “Orange” does seem to be a French surname as well.

The “house of orange”? Yeah, that’s right up the street from mine …

And let us not forget Miss Scarlet, Colonel Mustard, Mrs Peacock and Professor Plum.

Whadaya mean they’re fictional?

Oh! Wait, a real one! Tan, as in author Amy Tan.

Yeah I know, it probably doesn’t refer to the color. Cut me some slack.

Let’s see… Here’s a bunch from the Internet Movie Database:

Tracey Gold
Ron Silver
John Benjamin Red
Jennifer Grey
Victor Orange
Steve Amber
Monica Blue
Max Magenta
Heather Young, aka Lemmon Yellow
Ann Maroon
Lou Beige
Mary Peach

Wrong thinking is punished, right thinking is just as swiftly rewarded. You’ll find it an effective combination.

Well, the name “Green” or “Greene” is of Old English origin and suggests either a forester (hunter, woodcutter, etc.) or a person who played the role of “the Green Man” in village Mayday festivities.

What bieng “Green Man” involved is beyond me.

Green Bean:

Do you mean “Why did so many Jews end up with German color names as surnames, seemingly more so than German speakers in general?”, the answer would be that Jews functioned quite well without surnames for several millenia until required to assume surnames, in the local language, by the authorities in German-speaking areas of Europe in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (until that time, Jewish names were of the form “<name> <patronymic>”, as in “Yosef ben Yitzak”, meaning “Yosef, son of Yitzak”).

While many Jews were able to adopt names related to their occupation, place of residence, etc. (mirroring the circumstances that led to most Christian surnames), others were forced to contend with mean-spirited or greedy minor officials who registered surnames based on how large a bribe was provided. Names with positive connotations (Diamant, Rosen, Blume, and most of the invented combinations of -berg, -stein, -feld, -baum etc.) went to the well-off. Officials who were more honest or too busy to attempt to line their own pockets often made do with a relatively small group of more-or-less neutral names, often based on appearance (size, hair or eye color, etc.): Klein, short or small, Gross, tall or large, Schwarz, black, Weiss, white, Gelb, yellow or gold, Braun, brown, etc. Other German color names, like Gruen, green, Blau, blue, Rot, red, and so on occur less often by themselves, though they’re common enough in compounds: Gruenberg (aka Greenberg), Rothschild, etc.

“Ain’t no man can avoid being born average, but there ain’t no man got to be common.” –Satchel Paige

As someone named Eve Golden, I have been searching all my life for a man named Adam Silver . . .

Tsk! Somewhere in that list, you’ve revealed my RL name! But… such is life for someone with the most common male first name and a “color” surname. Why, in my small town (~5500) alone, I share my name with no fewer than three others.

Sorry to wander off with the topic like that. It’s just nice to see an OP that I can relate to.


I know an Adam Silver, as a matter of fact. :smiley: He’s married though (to my friend Ellen), or I’d introduce you. Of course there’s always this Adam Silver - maybe he’s available?

[slight hijack]The vice-principal of my Junior High was named Silver. He and his wife named their first daughter Sterling. Ugh![/hijack]

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” - Anne Frank

“Mom, he’s a neo Nazi! He’s a doctor also? Well…” - WallyM7

Wow. Thanks for the explanation, Rackensack!