Why aren’t more color names used as surnames?

White, Black, Grey/Gray, Brown… these are fairly common surnames.

But why don’t we read about the exploits of the Lavender family or the acting dynasty of the Ceruleans? Why is there no real Mr. Pink or Mr. Orange?

Why aren’t more color names used as surnames?

The color names we have aren’t used as names just because they’re colors. They’re used as names because they were associated in some way with the people who got those names, often as hair colors. The original John Brown, after whom all of his descendants are named, might have had brown hair. But there haven’t been many people noted for their pink or lavender hair.

So where are all the Red families?

I’d speculate that this isn’t because of the color, rather that his ancestors were in the lavender business or something like that.

It seems that these are all very old English, German, and/or Anglo-Saxon names and were typically derived from one’s physical appearance and/or occupation.

White = fair complexion, “unblemished,” lived at the bend of a river (a “wiht”);
Black = dark complexion, blacksmith;
Grey/Gray = gray hair, was from Graye (a French village named for the Roman name “Gratus” meaning “welcome”);
Brown = brown complexion or hair, one who always wore brown clothing e.g. clergy.

There’s also Green.

Well, there’s Horace Silver, the jazz pianist. And there are no lack of Golds, Greens and Rusts in the world.

I was about to post this - very common, perhaps association with the village green.

Russell, Reid, Rojas, Reed, Cochrane, Flanagan, Gough, Roy, Rossini, Leroux - all these family names are derived from “red”. It’s the source of my own surname, for that matter.

Anybody who has looked at old photos or movies knows there weren’t even colors until the mid-20th Century and people weren’t named after them until Quintin Tarantino started the practice in the 1990s.

Red Green, Red Adair, Red Skelton. But I don’t know of any with “Red” as a last name.

“Gold” as a name probably isn’t after the color, but after the substance itself, and its associations with wealth. Someone named “Gold” might have been rich, or might have been a jeweler.


In Old English, Trask says, the color was pronounced with a long “e” sound, which “gave rise to the surname variously spelled Reade, Read or Reed.”

These surnames stayed the same, but the color term “underwent a shortening of the vowel” and was pronounced and spelled “red.” (The same sound change happened with “bread,” “dead,” and “head,” but the spellings didn’t change.)


“As for ‘purple,’ this word was simply not in use in English as a color term when surnames were being invented,” Trask adds. “All of ‘purple,’ ‘’orange’ and ‘pink’ were late additions to our set of color terms.” …

Finally, why don’t we see a lot of people called “Mr. Yellow”? For one thing, light hair is usually described as “blond” or “blonde,” a subject we’ve discussed on our blog.

Although we don’t find a lot of people called “Mr. Blond” or “Ms. Blonde,” we do find quite a few called “Fairchild,” “Fairbairn,” and “Fairfax” (“fax” is an obsolete term for hair).

Remeber the Red Sea? That is where they drowned. Except the ones mentioned by Slow_Moving_Vehicle, of course.

For the OP: Being Mr. Brown is bad enough, but Mr. Yellow? (Loosely after Reservoir Dogs, if my memory serves me right - Happy Joining Anniversary, Elmer_J.Fudd).

No, but there are plenty of Roths.

I’ve never heard of any Mr. Purple, but I know or have known a Mr. Violet and a Mr. Violette.

“Rood” is “red.”

And there are thousands of Tans, though it’s unrelated to the color.

Lots of Pinks

There was a company called Thomas Pink that made shirts, apparently called after an 18th-century tailor of that name.