Who Knew?

White grounds out, Brown doubles, and Blanco comes to bat. The opposing team brings in Green, their closer.

My knowledge of the game being limited, watching baseball gives me ample opportunity to think Other Thoughts. On this particular day in March, I start to notice the colour words that are surnames, in English or Spanish, and those that aren’t.

“Never mind fuchsia and primrose,” I think, “where are the Reds, Yellows, and Oranges? Where are the Pinks and the Blues?”

Not for the first time, such idle speculation led to a journey on which I learned many things. But let’s start with the most important thing.

Who’s to Blame?

We can blame the existence of surnames in English on the Normans.

Before the Norman Conquest of Britain, people did not have hereditary surnames: they were known just by a personal name or nickname.

We can blame the Saxons for the form of surnames in English.

Saxon surnames were given hastily and arbitrarily, often based on – say – the name of the oldest male (“-son” names), someone’s occupation (“Miller”, “Butcher”), a physical characteristic (e.g. hair that was grey, brown, white, or even black), or the place of residence (e.g. “Field”, “Hill”, or by the village “Green”).

We can blame the early twentieth century for this back-to-front, double-negative explanation of surnames in English.

“there was no term in the vocabulary of the day which could be used to denote the colour of the dress, the hair, or the face, which did not find itself a place among our surnames.” – “English Surnames, Their Sources and Significations” (1915), Charles Wareing Endell Bardsley

We can blame punsters for the observation that English includes all manner of colour surnames: After all, they say, consider the thousands of Hughes in the phonebook.

And specifically for the Reds, Yellows, Oranges, Pinks, and Blues, this journey illustrated the limits of my knowledge of many things:


Ancestry.com entry for Orange

  • That Wiki has 15 Pinks famous enough to devote a disambiguation page to them (although in my defence I note that I did know about Justin Rose, British golfer)
  • That Vida Blue was a famous southpaw pitcher

So it’s baseball, but not just baseball. Once again, I have no one to blame but myself.

Other baseball fans apparently also have time for Other Thoughts.








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4 Responses to Who Knew?

  1. There were probably fewer colors “back then” — not the loud, un-nuanced world of neon colour we now are surrounded by. Watched “Blow up” film the other night and thought it was shot in black and white. No, said John, everything was covered in a depressing coating of coal dust.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – I think that’s right (fewer colours, I mean). When surnames were being handed out (Take one and don’t pass it on), they were still using body colours – skin tone and hair/eye colour – to identify people. Very few fuchsia-haired folks, back in the day.

  2. Judith Umbach says:

    An interesting way of exploring surnames. Perhaps at the next baseball game you would like to look into crafts and work, e.g., butcher, baker, (even candle?).

    I like the new look of your blog.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Judith – LOL. Yes, it could be like the Buddhist mindfulness exercises: noticing different categories of surnames. Glad you like the new look.

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