January 22, 2021

The origin of “orange”: which came first, the color or the fruit?

As you know, the word “orange” has two meanings. One is orange color and the second  is orange fruit. Have you ever wondered which of the two came first?

Has anyone made the un-creative decision to call the citrus fruit after its color? (This is how the blueberry got its name after all), or did the color take its name from the fruit?

As mysterious as the debate about chicken vs. an egg,  we wanted to know: what came first, orange the fruit or orange the color? And this one is actually much easier to answer.

Is an orange orange because it’s an orange?

The word “orange” traces its origins back to Sanskrit naranga, which was their term for both the fruit and the tree it grew on. Over the years, the word became the old French orenge, which in the fourteenth century came into Late Middle English as orange.

The first time we have a record of the world being used for orange fruit is back in the 13th century, but just about 300 years later, it was used for the orange color for the first time.

In the 16th century, the word “orange” started to be used in English to describe fabric and clothes, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. This also coincided with Portuguese sailors bringing into Europe a sweeter, tastier orange from China. “China apple” in a number of languages, including Dutch and Ukrainian, remains a synonym for orange.

But in Europe and beyond, both the name for the color and the fruit became “orange.”

Early color names

Orange things almost always had to be clarified in more detail before naming orange as a color. So, in Old English people simply call them Yellow-Red. But this was not a popular color descriptor. A few other names were tried for these shades, but none of them lasted. Even Saffron was first recorded as a word of color in the 1200s.

Orange: officially

After sweet oranges became well known in 1512, the first recorded use of “ORANGE” as a color word occurred. Yet for quite a while, it had not been a common term. In the mid-1590s, William Shakespeare used the term “Orange” for fruit, and color both. He typically pairs it with “tawny” in color use though. It’s almost as if he’d wanted to use the term that way.

When Isaac Newton began experimenting with light in the late 1660s, “orange” had been well-established as a term. So when he outlined the colors of the spectrum of light as shown in a prism, orange was one of them. Orange was very evident from there as one of the most basic colors.

Orange enjoys a special value for its position on the color wheel, given the fact that there are plenty of other colors named after foods that think of (apricot-colored scarves and raspberry-tinted berets). It’s more fascinating, as the exterior of the oranges is also naturally green. The bright color that we associate with the fruit only occurs when temperatures fall while the orange is on the tree.

Winding up: the color orange or the fruit orange?

The Color Orange or the Fruit Orange has existed for an extraordinarily long time. Yet the fruit comes first when it comes to ORIGIN.

However, orange tends to be the only essential color for which there is no other word in English. There is only orange, and the name comes from the fruit.

People needed a word for a color that was becoming more and more popular each day, and orange just so happened to fit the bill.