On one of my visits to Ireland - and with the Johnny Cash song in mind - my friend and I challenged ourselves to actually name 'forty shades of green'. The first dozen or so were fairly easy, but by the time we got into the 30s, we were struggling to come up with 'genuine' names and not ones we invented!
Quite often, when I'm writing, I have to search for colour names. Wikipedia has a good list, but I’ve also searched paint colour charts, make-up and fashion sites, and hair colourant lists to find the right word(s) to describe the colour I can see in my mind’s eye.
I admit I do like the synonyms which show the slight differences: for yellow, there’s daffodil, flax, lemon and mustard; for red there’s fire-engine, ruby, crimson, scarlet etc etc. At the same time, I tend to think the standard names for colours are the best, since everyone knows what they mean. No point describing the heroine’s dress as ‘
Colour 'cliches' can sometimes be boring – how many times have we read ‘eyes as blue as the sky' or 'hair as black as ebony'? Contrived, long-winded or eyebrow-raising similes can be equally irritating. Recently I've seen a couple of examples describing hair – ‘as blonde as a buttercup in a meadow’ (does that mean bright yellow?) and ‘as blonde as a dirty cloud’ (what? was she grey?)
Just as a matter of interest, did you know that, in early colonial times in America, Puritans used no similes or metaphors in their writing, because these glorified the writer, not God. In contrast, Southerners often used showy language in literature much more freely. Maybe I was a Puritan in an earlier existence, since I prefer to keep colour descriptions simple!
I once read a story where the author had obviously decided to use every possible variation of blue for the heroine’s eyes – cerulean, baby-blue, azure, sky-blue, denim, electric, sapphire etc – so much so that I got distracted from the story wondering what shade of blue the eyes would be on the next page!
As with many things, sometimes less is more!