“Perpetual plum”: Colour naming strategies in Maybelline’s lip products


  • Isabel Espinosa-Zaragoza Universidad de Alicante 0000-0002-9206-6917




ESP, colour terminology, verbal image, naming, lipstick, cosmetics


This study deals with the particularities of “constructed nameables” (Wyler, 2007, p. 117), that is, colour terminology in the context of cosmetic products, more specifically, of lipstick colour names by the cosmetic company Maybelline. How these nameables are created (i.e. word formation processes) and the imagery exploited (i.e. themes) in order to be memorable in a competitive market are the focus of this study. For this purpose, a sample of four lipstick collections with a total of seventy-six shades was manually collected from their official webpage (www.maybelline.com). The analysis reveals the predominance of two nomenclatures: morfosyntactic and semantic. The former is intended to capture the consumer’s attention by deviating from the expected. This is carried out by means of both hyphenated expressions, such as pink-for-me, mauve-for-me or plum-for-me, and with the use of the determiner more and secondary colour terms, like in more taupe, more magenta or more truffle, among others. The latter aims at seducing the consumer by exploiting theme consistency based on either romance and compulsion (e.g. magenta affair, pink fetish) or on colour longevity (e.g. everlasting wine, eternal cherry). In some cases, these are also combined with alliteration (e.g. timeless toffee, continuous coral, committed coral, perpetual plum) and assonance (e.g. steady red-y) to further appeal to the consumer. The results and conclusions point to the paramount importance of colour terminology in cosmetic verbal identity (Allen and Simmons, 2003). These colour names contribute to a coherent and homogeneous lip product range organization that is highly memorable and attention-grabbing.


Allen, T. and Simmons, J. (2003) ‘Visual and verbal identity’, in Clifton, R. and Simmons, J. (eds.) Brands and Branding. London: The Economist Newspaper, pp. 113–126.

Anishchanka, A., Speelman, D. and Geeraerts, D. (2014) Referential meaning in basic and non-basic color terms’, in Anderson, W., Biggam, C. P., Hough, C., and Kay, C. (eds.) Colour studies: A broad spectrum. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, pp. 323–338.

Bauer, L. and Renouf, A. (2001) ‘A Corpus-based Study of Compounding in English’, Journal of English Linguistics, 29(2), pp. 101–123. doi: 10.1177%2F00754240122005251

Berlin, B., and Kay, P. (1969) Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Biggam, C. P. (2012) The semantics of colour: A historical approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Casson, R. W. (1994) ‘Russett, Rose, and Raspberry: The Development of English Secondary Color Terms’, Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 4(1), pp. 5–22. doi: 10.1525/jlin.1994.4.1.5

Espinosa-Zaragoza, I. (2022) A study of colour names in the cosmetic industry. Master’s Thesis. University of Alicante.

Euromonitor International (2013, September 11) Redefining the “lipstick effect”– Examples of recession-proof categories. Euromonitor International. https://blog.euromonitor.com/redefining-the-lipstick-effect-examples-of-recession-proof-categories/

Hill, S. E., Rodeheffer, C. D., Griskevicius, V., Durante, K. and White, A. E. (2012) ‘Boosting beauty in an economic decline: Mating, spending, and the lipstick effect’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103(2), pp. 275–291. doi: 10.1037/a0028657

Kestenbaum, R. (2017, June 19). How the beauty industry is adapting to change. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/richardkestenbaum/2017/06/19/how-the-beauty-industry-is-adapting-to-change/?sh=584190103681

Martín, E. (2009) Nominología: cómo crear y proteger marcas poderosas a través del naming. Madrid: Fundación Confemetal.

McKinsey & Company (2021) The state of fashion 2021. https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Industries/Retail/Our%20Insights/State%20of%20fashion/2021/The-State-of-Fashion-2021-vF.pdf

Merskin, D. (2007) ‘Truly Toffee and Raisin Hell: A Textual Analysis of Lipstick Names’, Sex Roles, 56(9), pp. 591–600. doi: 10.1007/s11199-007-9201-9.

Merskin, D. (2007) ‘Truly Toffee and Raisin Hell: A textual analysis of lipstick names’, Sex Roles, 56(9), pp. 591–600. doi: 10.1007/s11199-007-9201-9

Netchaeva, E. and Rees, M. (2016) ‘Strategically stunning: The professional motivations behind the lipstick effect’, Psychological Science, 27(8), pp. 1157–1168. doi: 10.1177%2F0956797616654677

Radzi, N. S. M. and Musa, M. (2017) ‘Beauty Ideals, Myths and Sexisms: A Feminist Stylistic Analysis of Female Representations in Cosmetic Names’, Journal of Language Studies, 17(1), pp. 21–38. doi: 10.17576/gema-2017-1701-02.

Ringrow, H. (2016) The Language of Cosmetics Advertising. Palgrave Pivot. doi: 10.1057/978-1-137-55798-8.

Sedlmayr, L. (n.d.) Post-COVID-19: New cosmetics ecommerce trends on the rise. Red Points. https://www.redpoints.com/blog/new-cosmetics-ecommerce-trends/

Skorupa, P. and Dubovi?ien?, T. (2015) ‘Linguistic characteristics of commercial and social advertising slogans’, Coactivity: Philology, Educology/Santalka: Filologija, Edukologija, 23(2), pp. 108–118. doi: 10.3846/cpe.2015.275

Tuna, S. G. and Freitas, E. S. L. (2015) ‘On the implications of non-translation in Portuguese advertising: Names in cosmetic products as a case in point’, Estudos em Comunicação, 20, pp. 133–147. Doi: 10.20287/ec.n20.a07

Vasiloaia, M. (2009) ‘Linguistic Features of the Language of Advertising’, Economy Transdisciplinarity Cognition, 1, pp. 1–5.

Wheeler, A. (2009) Designing brand identity: An essential guide for the whole branding team (3rd ed.). John Wiley & Sons.

Wyler, S. (2007) ‘Color terms between elegance and beauty. The verbalization of color with textiles and cosmetics’, in Plümacher, M. and Holz, P. (eds) Speaking of Colors and Odors. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, pp. 113–128. doi: 10.1075/celcr.8.06wyl




How to Cite

Espinosa-Zaragoza, I. (2023) “‘Perpetual plum’: Colour naming strategies in Maybelline’s lip products”, Cultura e Scienza del Colore - Color Culture and Science, 15(01), pp. 69–75. doi: 10.23738/CCSJ.150109.