How Do Makeup Shades Get Their Names?


What’s in a name? Quite a bit if it’s a lipstick, cheek stain, or nail polish. (After all, would OPI’s Lincoln Park After Dark by any other name sound as cool?) Cosmetic marketing execs spend hours crafting the perfect monikers for their products. “Creating a name for a lipstick can honestly make it or break it,” Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics’ founder David Klasfeld explained to last year. “Sometimes people will buy a shade simply because of the name, without any intent to use it.”

Specific methods vary from brand to brand. Nail guru Deborah Lippmann, for example, names all of her polishes after song titles “because I’m a jazz singer and so passionate about music,” while Nars founder Francois Nars—the man who created the label’s popular Orgasm blush—just aims to make a splash. “I gave the products names to make them more special, to bring them to life, to give them a personality,” he has said. “I wanted it to really click for women; I wanted them to remember the given product. It’s no longer just a tube of lipstick—it’s a movie or a character that you can identify with, a destination you travel to through products and colors. The names make the product ‘larger-than-life.’”

At most companies, naming products is a group effort. One exception: Essie. Founder Essie Weingarten dreams up the names for her lacquers—think Ballet Slippers and Marshmallow—solo. “I have creative people help suggest names, and some of them are really good!” she said in 2011. “But in the end, I decide.” At Urban Decay, employees can send suggestions that are filed away into a name library. For their “Vice” palettes options are categorized “into like ‘sex names,’ ‘drug names,’” co-founder and creative director Wende Zomnir has explained, “and when you think of a good name you put it into the name library.”

In Benefit’s San Francisco offices, regular naming meetings take place on Thursday mornings. “There are usually about ten of us gathered around our tin table, munching on Skittles and M&M's,” co-founder Jane Ford told Huffington Post in 2011. “The process is always done by democracy, everyone needs to buy into the name, whether it's a product name or shade name. Everyone votes, there are no egos and when we get it right everyone just lights up. We start by blurting out name ideas and then we vote thumbs up or thumbs down for our favorites. We don't try to be clever or witty, we try to come up with names that will make people laugh.”

Nail company OPI uses a similar process to craft its punny labels. They’ll fill a conference room with inspiration—if it’s a travel-themed collection, for example, there will be food from the country in question—and invite those with a knack for wordplay. CEO Suzi Weiss-Fischmann has joked it’s “six crazy people from marketing, Susan from purchasing and Elaine from customer service.” And they take the gig seriously—to name a 12-shade collection takes roughly eight hours!