by Susan Page Davis
The names of colors are some of the first words we learn. The sky is blue, the grass is green, bananas are yellow, and pumpkins are orange. But before English people knew about the fruit we call oranges, what did they call the color orange?
English-speaking people learned about the fruit around 1300 A.D., borrowing the word for it from the French for the fruit, orenge, which in turn came from the Medieval Latin “pomum de orenge.” If you trace the origin further back, you’ll eventually arrive at the Arabic word “naranj,” and beyond. However, English speakers did not use “orange” as a color word until the 1500s. The first known documented such usage is in a will filed in 1512.
But orange things existed in their world before that. Carrots, pumpkins, apricots, various flowers, and autumn leaves are just a few. How did they designate the hue?
Most sources agree that in Britain this color was long ago known as “geoluhread,” which translate to the modern “yellow-red.” In the sixteenth century, people began using “orange” for the color. English people also knew and used the word saffron to indicate color, for the hue of the spice.
Another word in the English language referring to the saffron color was “crog,” and orange was sometimes referred to as “geolucrog,” or “yellow-saffron.”
Sometimes things we think of as orange in hue were called red, as in the red deer or the red fox. In heraldry the word gules referred to red hues, but another word was also used for these animal fur colors: “tenné,” from which we get our
In Asia, orange is a sacred color in Hinduism and Buddhism, and holy men of these religions often wear orange garments.
In Europe, orange has become a political color, in association with the House of Orange-Nassau. This family got its name, not from the fruit, but from the name of an ancient Celtic village, “Arausio,” but over time the family of the Prince of Orange adapted that name, and also the color as part of its identity. Since the family was Protestant and sided with the Protestants in the French Wars of Religion, orange has become a color firmly associated with Protestantism.
William of Orange, who became Britain’s William III, made the color even more important and symbolic in the English-speaking countries. He defended the Protestant minority in Ireland, and the Protestants became known as Orangemen. The color is now part of Ireland’s flag. The tri-colored banner is meant to symbolize peace (white) between the Catholics (green) and Protestants (orange).
|Flag of Ireland|
In Africa, the Orange River in South Africa is named for the House of Orange, and the Orange Free State, an independent Boer republic in the late nineteenth century, took its name from the river. Many other uses of Orange in names and orange color in flags (usually associated with the Dutch or Protestantism) can be easily found.
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Susan Page Davis is the author of more than fifty published novels. A history major, she’s always interested in the unusual happenings of the past. Susan is a two-time winner of the Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award, and also a winner of the Carol Award and the Will Rogers Medallion, and a finalist in the WILLA Awards and the More Than Magic Contest. Visit her website at: www.susanpagedavis.com .