What color is your name?
February 12, 2020 2:45 AM   Subscribe

Synesthesia.me: A Synthesia Project by Bernadette Sheridan
posted by romakimmy (21 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Okay... take 26 letters, assign each a color (with some overlap), and turn any word into a simple substitution code.
No changes for phonetic usage -- ELLA has four color strips, SEAN and SHAWN have different color codes.
Color choices seem random. The vowels are distinct (red for A, yellow for E, white for I, etc.) but the remaining letters do not appear to have a discernible grouping strategy.
It's a fun little game.
posted by TrishaU at 4:42 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]

TrishaU, I'm not clear from your comment whether you are saying this is such a game?

This isn't an intentionally thought-out color matching thing. This is how Bernadette experiences the world - letters just are the colors that they are, just like for you and me, things like grass or apples or the sky just are a specific color without our having assigned a color to them. The color choices may "seem random," but for someone with synaesthesia they are VERY specific. For Bernadette Sheridan, the letter "e" in "Ella" is that color. Same too with the "a" in all three. And the reason that "Sean" and "Shawn" have "different color codes" has to do with the letters themselves instead of the sounds - the "e" in "Ella" is the same color as the "e" in "Sean".

What's a little unclear (unless you read the notes) is that other people with grapheme-color synesthesia may have different colors corresponding to different letters. But for them, the letter P just is that color. And it's a pretty specific color; P isn't just "red" or "blue" or whatever, it's usually like a specific shade of red or blue.

Synesthesia is cool, man. I met someone once who had a type where different people's personalities had a color quality for him, such that until he figured out what was going on with himself, he thought "huh, maybe seeing auras is actually a thing?" Apparently for him, something about the essence of my being is a deep slate-like blue-grey. He also saw a director we both knew as taupe, which...I don't have synesthesia, but I can kinda see that. :-)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:58 AM on February 12 [8 favorites]

Green red blue white yellow??
Well, some overlap: my name is green green brown white red.

Blues only belong to the blue-shaped letters, like p and b and d.
posted by little cow make small moo at 5:02 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]

Curious that you get a different answer depending on whether you capitalise the first letter or not.
(I didn't try all caps)
posted by Burn_IT at 5:55 AM on February 12

i seem to remember reading a story a several-few years ago about how the color/number or color/letter associations some 'synesthetes' had were entirely the result of the colors of the letters and numbers in a set of fridge magnets that were popular during their childhood. not saying that's the case here, but you can color me slightly skeptical.
posted by logicpunk at 6:04 AM on February 12 [6 favorites]

This is different than what I thought it would be.
My mom has synesthesia in that she sees different people's names as different colors. But it is phonetic. I've always wanted to run through a list of names with her and write down what she sees to see if there is a pattern (I'm light purple she says) but I've never got around to it.

This person breaks down the name into letters and sees each letter with a different color? So when she meets someone new she doesn't know their colors until they have spelled out their name for her (e.g. Sean/Shawn as above) Again, that is curious too I suppose.
posted by vacapinta at 6:05 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]

I was pretty underwhelmed till I found the ABOUT section. But that really just upgraded me from 'meh' to 'huh!'

As a 1st and 2nd grader, all my understanding of the relationships between basic numbers (addition, subtraction, fractions, even or odd, etc) and letter combos were based on elaborate emotional stories between them. I know that's apples and oranges, but don't all kids use some type of analogous story telling or compartmentalizing or classification to learn abstract concepts during development?
posted by es_de_bah at 6:11 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]

As a kid, I was aware that my brain did this with letters and numbers, but didn’t learn it was a recognized thing with a name till college, while very randomly browsing books in the library.

My recollection is both letters and numbers are “supposed” to be consistently the same color for “true” synesthetes? But my personal experience was always that the gestalt of some words can cause my brain to shift the hue/saturation/shade of individual letters in the word, or simply give impression of like 3-5 colors that aren’t necessarily the exact colors of the constituent letters.
posted by Ornate Rocksnail at 6:14 AM on February 12 [5 favorites]

I’m aware that sometimes synesthesia can interfere with learning at the pace of someone who does not have it, so while there are moments of amazement, there can also be moments of personal frustration for the range of synesthesia. It’s wonderful to have this content to show professionals who work with students who might request accommodation.
posted by childofTethys at 6:24 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]

My initial response was that this was a color palette generator. Further investigation beyond the "View the Gallery" and "See Your Name" page has shown the author's personal history with the phenomenon. My apologies for any misunderstandings.

Meanwhile, down the rabbit hole: Synesthesia in Wikipedia has answered several of my questions.
Is synesthesia diagnosed in childhood, or can in develop later in life? The article indicates that while little is known about how this condition develops, there seems to be a correlation between synesthesia and abstract concepts learned in early education. "This hypothesis – referred to as semantic vacuum hypothesis – explains why the most common forms of synesthesia are grapheme-color, spatial sequence and number form. These are usually the first abstract concepts that educational systems require children to learn."

Are there different types? The article describes ten of the more common forms, but mentions that as many as 80 types of synesthesia exist. The earliest recorded case dates back to 1690. Two examples are given of persons who were blind or color-blind but experienced color-related sensations.
posted by TrishaU at 7:33 AM on February 12

To clarify, I totally get that synthesia means that this isn't a learning tool, but rather a stimulus that you can't opt out of or over-wright with practice. That's what I meant by 'apples and oranges.'
posted by es_de_bah at 8:22 AM on February 12

My name generated the Buttigieg campaign palette, so I have that going for me, which is nice.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 9:21 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]

I have this type of synesthesia, but for me names are mostly coloured by the first letter. Very rarely the second letter can affect the colouring. The shape of the letters also affects how I ... relate to it? It's really difficult to put this into words because this is something that happens without conscious thought.

For example, my dog's name is Maia. I had a roommate for awhile and her dog's name was Maya. In my head, those are two completely different names because the 'y' dips down below the level of the word while the 'i' keeps the name in a straight line. (We nicknamed her dog Monster for the time that she lived with me. Meant very affectionately.)

If I met someone named Shawn and I visualized it as Sean, and only after I got to know them did I realize their name was spelled differently, I would have a period of adjustment because now their name-shape doesn't match.

With each of my dogs, I have had to get to know them for a few days and feel what colour they are before I can name them, so that I pick a name that starts with the right coloured letter. Otherwise there is a dissonance that is impossible for me to ignore.

I also have colours attached to numbers, days of the week, months, years and decades, and hours of time. December is black and I am always thrown off by bright sunny days in December because that's just ... not how it is. February is sky blue, even though Fs in names are strongly green. The hour of 9 is yellow.

@logicpunk I've heard that same thing but for me, the colours don't match those magnets. There's no relation.
posted by twilightlost at 10:01 AM on February 12 [7 favorites]

i seem to remember reading a story a several-few years ago about how the color/number or color/letter associations some 'synesthetes' had were entirely the result of the colors of the letters and numbers in a set of fridge magnets that were popular during their childhood. not saying that's the case here, but you can color me slightly skeptical.

That could be true without meaning those people don't really have synesthesia. I feel quite confident that my daughter really does have synesthesia and she recently realized that a lot of her color/letter associations match the colors of the letters on Starfall. (She used the Wayback machine to check the version of Starfall she would have seen when she was a little kid, because she felt like some of the letters might have changed color since then.)

I don't normally have synesthesia, but under the influence of cannabis, I do. If I get high enough, letters, words and music have colors. If I asked you, "What color is C?" or "What color is this part of this song?" you might be able to come up with an answer. I think a lot of people could come up with an answer fairly quickly that would feel as if it had a certain rightness to it. But I've experienced first hand the difference between that and what synesthesia is like - instantly, automatically seeing the color at the same time you hear the sound, completely unbidden. You can have an association between a letter and a color (maybe based on your childhood fridge magnets) without having synesthesia.

Because I'm a part-time synesthete, it wasn't too hard for me to believe my daughter when she started saying she had synesthesia. I was skeptical at first, because it started when her friend told her she (the friend) had synesthesia. But she's so quick, confident, consistent and detailed in her descriptions of the colors of things that I'm completely convinced by now. She has has letter/color associations and she says different voices have different colors. She also sees numbers as having gender and personality, as described here. I actually think her friend's synesthesia may have been just wishful imagining, but hers seems real.
posted by Redstart at 10:16 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]

Same. I don't see names having colors but letters and numbers do have genders and personalities. 0 is a wild man, 1 is a sad sack, 2 is very well adjusted, 3 is too pleased with herself, 4 is very nice, 5 is bossy and loud, 6 is a straight laced nerd, 7 is the coolest number, 8 is a tomboy and 9 is kind of a player.
posted by Brain Sturgeon at 10:43 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]

I'm not fond of pages where you have to click on "Show me the feature stuff" before you get a link to the "About" page.

I'm curious how she visualizes names that have letters that aren't in the English alphabet. Is the Spanish "ll" the same as two l's, or does it have its own color? Is ñ the same as n?
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:43 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]

I don't have synesthesia of any form. I can't say what it is really but the color palette generated by my name felt super right. And it didn't even involve any shades of blue which is my favorite color (specifically, cobalt blue). On top of which, my name has a couple common spelling variants and typing it the other way gave me a spectrum that looked wrong to me. No idea what any of that actually means to me, but I feel that if I met Bernadette she would really understand me.
posted by acidnova at 11:06 AM on February 12

I got super-intrigued by synesthesia after meeting that dude with it, and got deep into armchair research for a while. There was an intriguing theory I read at the time that suggested a "cause" - that it's a sort of holdover in the neural pathway fine-tuning in response to sensory input. The theory was that when we're just born, any sensory stimuli makes all our brain's sensory receptors fire - and during that first year of life our brains are gradually sorting out that "Oh, okay, visual input is only supposed to register in this one place, and stuff we get through the ears is only supposed to register here." So gradually the ties between the sensory centers that "don't match" fade. So in theory, synesthetes are people for whom some of those ties never completely faded, so you still have the visual center get triggered by some sounds or the taste center triggered by textures or what have you.

That theory also suggested that there may be a tiny bit of vestigial synesthesia in many of us unawares. I think the Wiki article talks about this - that they did some tests where they showed people two different shapes, and one was a blobby shape with all curved edges, and the other was a spiky pointy shape. In each case, they also had a pair of words; one word had very harsh-sounding consonants, like "koko", and the other was more "softer" consonants like "sisi" or "bibi". They would show people the two different shapes and then mention the two words, and ask people to say which word they would use for each of the two shapes. In the majority of cases, people chose the "softer" name, like "bibi", for the blobby shape, and the harsher word like "koko" for the spiky shape.

The colleague with synesthesia also told us that for each person, their own experience is really specific when it comes to "what color is this thing". He said that was the one thing that kept him from fully swallowing the idea that maybe he could see auras - everything he was reading about auras was way too general in their description of the aura colors, and only discussed auras being "green" or "blue". His experience, however, was not just "that person is green", it was more like "that person is Panetone 380 C".

And it's different for every person. For one, the letter A is Panetone 380 C green, and for another, it's more of a red-brown Panetone 7599 C. Maybe kids can't quite articulate the different shade qualities, but it's not necessarily the kind of thing that can be explained by a set of colored magnets; in fact, there are some personal essays I've read where a kid was hindered by the colors on such a magnet set, because they had the letters in the "wrong" color for them.

Pharrel Williams has discussed in the past that he has synesthesia, and had some pretty interesting comments about it in an NPR interview:
You have no idea what you're seeing in your mind if you don't really take the time to talk about it. If I tell everyone right now to picture a red truck, you're gonna see one. But is there one in real life right there in front of you? No. That's the power of the mind. People with synesthesia, we don't really notice until someone brings it up and then someone else says, "Well, no, I don't see colors when I hear music," and that's when you realize something's different.[...]most genius mathematicians, they're synesthetes. If you ask them what their process is, especially people that can add or divide 10-digit numbers, it's because they see those numbers in colors, or sometimes the sizes will vary. That's called a grapheme synesthete. That's one who sees things, sees numbers or characters in a different way....[for some people] the way they process information is slightly different.
I couldn't find the quote, but I swear I read somewhere that when he was composing "Happy", he tried to use sounds that were all bright sunny colors like yellows and oranges.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:04 PM on February 12 [6 favorites]

This is really neat, I have the same thing and I didn't know it had a name until now. I sent the link to a couple of work colleagues today and it ended up with me spending half hour an hour answering questions on what it's like to see letters as colours - surprisingly hard to describe, it turns out.

Delightfully, the author sees my name almost exactly the same way I do. We have very similar colours at the start of the alphabet but it goes off the rails around letter J. (Honestly, how could you think U is brown? It's clearly orange.)
posted by AllShoesNoSocks at 1:32 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]

I have this type of synesthesia, but for me names are mostly coloured by the first letter. Very rarely the second letter can affect the colouring.

My daughter says the vowels are the most important thing determining the color of a word, which seems weird, because for me (the stoned me, who sees the colors of words) vowels are the least important.
posted by Redstart at 8:22 PM on February 12

0 is a wild man, 1 is a sad sack, 2 is very well adjusted, 3 is too pleased with herself, 4 is very nice, 5 is bossy and loud, 6 is a straight laced nerd, 7 is the coolest number, 8 is a tomboy and 9 is kind of a player.

For me 1 is a big hero Boy Scout, 2 & 4 are both earth mother goddess moms distinguished mainly by 4 being more lawful & good at baking while 2 is more permissive & attuned to the universe, 3 is the asshole mansplainer no one likes, 5 thinks he's a hep cat but is a little dorky, 6 is the beta female to 7's cool hipster feminist, 8 is a genderless mystic, 9 is the amused aloof cool girl, & 0 is too sinister to contemplate the personality of (but is basically Team Rocket).

Honestly these are so semi-formed & similar to each other in my head that it feels like they were manifested at a very young age when all I really grasped about personality was mommies & daddies & cool girls, dunno if that's a common experience or not.
posted by taquito sunrise at 9:23 PM on February 13

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