Cuneiform tablet, dated 600-500BC, with instru...

As old as language itself are the names for many of the colors we know so well. Others came into the English language in a more circuitous way, such as the color orange which had its origin in China and refers to the citrus fruit; violet, from the flower by that name; and indigo, from the Indigofera tinctoria plant .

In the annuals of human language, the colors white and black, from ancient times,  always had a name. Cave dwellers used black to etch drawings on the walls. Though some would say that black and white are not really colors at all, but rather the lack of or culmination of all true colors. White is a tint, used to make color hues lighter in tone. Black is a shade used to make color hues darker in tone.

The next oldest color name belongs to red, the hue of blood either human or from slaughtered animal meat. Yellow and green, the most common colors for vegetation, came next. Blue cam from the color of the sky; brown, (dark orange) the color of the Earth and the hue seen commonly in animals. Purple’s origin comes from a type of shellfish, Bolinus brandaris, used to dye the robes of kings and emperors. The color pink comes from the frilled edges of the Dianthus flower, and gray/grey is found in the Bible, used to describe elderly people. Many of the more interesting and fun modern names for colors come from the Crayola company, a name most of us know from early children hood.

Color icon red.svgColor icon yellow.pngColor icon green.svgColor icon blue.svgColor icon violet v2.svgColor icon brown v2.svgColor icon pink v2.svgColor icon gray v2.svgColor icon orange v2.svg

English: Lascaux Caves - Prehistoric Paintings...

Aurochs on a cave painting in Lascaux, France

Red blood cell agar



Two shells of Bolinus brandaris, also known as the Spiny dye-murex

Tyrian Purple

Indigofera tinctoria Dianthus

Crayola yellow and green 64-color box with 16 of the crayons from the box arrayed in front of it

Where did color names come from?                                                                                                                    

Cave Paintings:
(Ancient) Fruits and Vegetables
Ancient vs Modern Fruits and Vegetables:
History, Shellfish, Royalty and the Color Purple:
Tyrian Purple:
Everything you ever wanted to know about the color pink:
Grey or Gray:
Color Name & Hue
Official Crayola Site: