What Makes A Great Perfume Name?


Daisy and I are hitting Twisted Lily today to try the newest Serge Lutens fragrance, L’Orpheline. Yes, you read that right: “The Orphan”. Imagine you’re on a first date with a smoldering-yet-sensitive Chris Pine lookalike. He leans in and whispers, “I must know the name of your perfume, you enchanting creature.” “It’s ‘Orphan’, darling,” you whisper back. He never calls, and you’re forced to settle for a not-remotely-Chris-Pine-lookalike. Or what about that coworker who always asks what you’re wearing? Tell her it’s ‘Orphan’, and the next thing you know you’re being forced into orphan sensitivity seminars. This isn’t Serge’s first naming offense, by the way; remember the Silence Of The Lambs-tastic “Skin Games”?

The magic formula for a perfect perfume name is complex and highly subjective. You need to strike the right balance between catchy, evocative, grammatically correct, and difficult for Americans to mangle. Here are my perfume naming criteria; please feel free to debate and share your own in the comments!

1) Pronounceable for non-native French speakers. Listen, France, I bought the Rosetta Stone. Meet me halfway here.

2) No notes in the name. This one is definitely up for a debate, but I feel like names like “Royal Oud” or “Heaving Tuberose” really reduce a perfume to that one component.

3) No mixing languages. Just say no to “L’Homme For Men” or “Sexy Little Things Noir.”

4) Maximum of one modifier. Acceptable: Femme L’Eau. Unacceptable: Femme L’Eau Fraiche Sheer Florale Absolu Narnia.

5) Have pun with it. My most controversial opinion: I can’t resist a good perfume pun. One of my greatest perfume regrets is letting Smell Bent Gimel A Break slip through my fingers.

32 thoughts on “What Makes A Great Perfume Name?

  1. But if it’s in French suddenly it sounds lovely and refined. Which just reminds me of years and years ago when my friends & I were probably–definitely–writing Final Fantasy VII fanfic because I am that kind of nerd it was like, ‘We need a title! Quick give me the word for this in French.’ and voila! Speaking very little French myself, upon first reading it L’Orpheline evoked thoughts of Orpheus.

    What’s that ravishing scent you’re wearing, my dear? Eau de Orphan.

      1. Shhh, they’ll start banning that like civet soon enough. And then the imitation Orphan extract will never compare. Also, I’m going to hell. I needed a laugh this afternoon, and this post provided that.

    1. “If it’s in French it sounds lovely and refined”. Oh, if only…you haven’t heard me mangle the French language. Lol.

  2. I think your criteria are right on. My favorite perfume name remains H de P’s Marquis de Sade. And dammit, NO ONE has ever asked me what I’m wearing when I have it on!

    1. This is fascinating, because I remember that Marquis de Sade is one of The Unseen Censer’s LEAST favorite perfume names! My favorite HdP name is Jules Vernes.

      1. It’s true. Because eating or having sex with dead people is not sexy. (People often have not read even an outline of what the fellow called “the Marquis de Sade” actually wrote).

        1. You forgot the whipping of poor servant girls and pouring red wax into their bleeding wounds. Or the extensive wooden dildo collection. But I guess not many people think of those…

  3. When I think of “L’Orpheline” I remember the stinging exchange between James Bond and Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale (yes, yes, Daniel Craig and Eva Green), and that is somehow a *very sexy* “Oh-I-know-YOU (and I hate you)” sort of scene, so that name doesn’t bother me much. However, it’s a Serge so I haven’t bothered to smell it.

    Soivohle has some fanTABulous perfume names: Harbinger, Writing Lyrical Poetry, Chrysalis, Bottleneck Blues, Honeysuckle Bird, Love Speaks Primeval…

    Apres l’Ondee, that’s a great name. I think White Linen is perfect, though I don’t like the fragrance. Ava Luxe Love’s True Bluish Light (is AL still producing? don’t know). CBIHP Cradle of Light. Guerlain Attrape-Coeur.

    I could go on, but I won’t. And anyway, I am uninterested in Chris Pine. 😀 (Make it Tom Hardy or Matthew MacFadyen and we are ON, BABY.)

    1. You mean the sexiest scene found in cinema from the last 20 years. Yes, good. Bond and Vesper.

    2. I still haven’t seen Casino Royale, or any James Bond, actually. Apres l’Ondee is one of the all-time great perfume names. Guerlain does beautiful perfume names in general, although they rarely adhere to the “pronounceable for non-native French speakers” rule.

    1. So agreed on the long, over-the-top titles. I think the worst offender was Elternhaus MoslBuddJewChristHinDao, which was fortunately eventually renamed “Unfaith”.

  4. The CEO keeps saying that he’d like to produce a fragrance called “Practically Nothing.” So that you could say it when somebody asked you what you were wearing.

    Yeah, he’s secretly fourteen. 😉

  5. I have actually lied about a perfume rather than attempting to explain that I am wearing ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong Baby, I Don’t Swallow’. Thanks for that, Etat Libre d’Orange! In other respects it is a perfectly nice, light, office-appropriate perfume. P.S. Femme L’Eau Fraiche Sheer Florale Absolu Narnia is THE BEST perfume name ever.

  6. Hey there Arielle,
    I have a little story. In Australia we have a saying, “Real men don’t eat Quiche.” As a child I was brought up calling Quiche “Eggy Pie” and it wasn’t till I moved from home that I found out the secret.
    On telling this story once an English friend of ours told the story of how her grandmother would offer to cook Egg Bread and the kids would all go “YUCKY!” but when she said French Toast, they all said “YUMMO!”
    Funny things names.
    Honestly though I couldn’t care less what a scent is called as long as I can say it out loud without sounding like a complete backwoods Betty, and as long as the juice is how I like it.
    Portia x

    1. “Backwoods Betty” is an excellent phrase. I will eat French Toast no matter what it’s called. Quiche, not so much 😉

  7. I loved the post and agree with most of your criteria but I have to say that if anybody had dared to address me “you enchanting creature,” “Orphan” would have been the most polite word in my response – no matter whose lookalike the person had been.

  8. I would like to just add that the more accurate translation of “L’Orpheline” would be “Female Orphan” — which makes it even better/worse, doesn’t it?

    “He leans in and whispers, ‘I must know the name of your perfume, you enchanting creature.” “It’s ‘FEMALE Orphan’, darling,’ you whisper back.”

    Great post, Ari! And Femme L’Eau Fraiche Sheer Florale Absolu Narnia was a great summer flanker.

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