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Concepts, algorithms & MATLAB

A New Colormap for MATLAB – Part 4 – The Name 5

Posted by Steve Eddins,

In the summer of 2013 we were closing in a choice for the new MATLAB colormap. We were down to tweaking and fine-tuning.

But ... we needed a name!

For my many experiments, I had fallen back on an old graduate school habit of naming things after characters from Lord of the Rings. So I had filenames such as gandalf_20130623a.m and faramir_20130712b.m. (Faramir is my favorite LOTR minor character.) I certainly knew that wasn't going to work for the final name. How to choose one?

I looked over the names of the existing colormaps:


Well, we've got a few identifiable themes in there:

  • seasons (summer, autumn, winter, spring)
  • temperatures (cool, hot)
  • materials (bone, copper)
  • hues (pink, gray)
  • colorspaces (hsv, colorcube - sort of)

And there are some oddball names, such as jet, lines, prism, and flag. None of that seemed inspirational for naming a new colormap.

I decided to look for something descriptive. But descriptive of what?

To remind you, here's what the new colormap looks like:


I picked the main colors (to my eye, these are blue, green, orange, and yellow) in the new colormap and started doing searches using these color names and different kinds of objects. Animals seemed obvious. I actually started with fish, but that got nowhere fast.

Then I tried birds, and up popped the tropical parula:

Parula pitiayumi -Fecapi, Piraju, Sao Paulo, Brasil-8

As Wikipedia describes it, the tropical parula "has mainly blue-grey upperparts, with a greenish back patch and two white wingbars. The underparts are yellow, becoming orange on the breast."

Perfect! I didn't really think the team would go for it, though. I sent around an email with the name parula and a picture of the bird to a small group of people working on the visual appearance changes for the new MATLAB graphics system. Somewhat to my surprise, everyone said they liked it. Later, a larger group of senior MATLAB designers reviewed it, and they also liked it. So the name stuck.

That left us with one big problem, however. How is parula pronounced?

I don't know. In trying to find a definitive answer, I have only managed to confuse myself. As a result, I don't even always pronounce it the same way myself. In looking at various references for pronunciation of bird names, I have seen all of these variations:

  • pah-ROO-lə
  • PAIR-yə-lə
  • PAIR-ə-lə
  • PAR-yə-lə

I know two amateur birders at MathWorkers who told me definitively how to pronounce it. Of course, they each gave me a different answer.

I guess that most American English speakers would choose the first variation, which has the accent on the second syllable. That has certainly been the case at MathWorks headquarters in Massachusetts.

So I'll tell you what I tell MathWorkers here: you can pronounce it however you like!

Get the MATLAB code

Published with MATLAB® R2014b


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5 CommentsOldest to Newest

Sven replied on : 3 of 5

My wife is a biologist and bird watcher/photographer.

My MATLAB tinkerings are now approved.

Thanks Steve, nice choice!

Martin Trauth replied on : 4 of 5

I have checked for the origin of the genus name parula and found it at It says:

“New Latin Parula a genus name, alteration of Parulus an earlier genus name, equivalent to Late Latin pār(us) titmouse (akin to Latin parra a bird whose cry was considered a bad omen) + Latin -ulus -ule”

On the page it also provides sound of the pronouncation! There it sounds like your


but the correct (well … you knows how Romans would have pronounced it) Latin pronouncation would be pah-ROO-lə. In any case … it’s a great colormap and I have started using it soon after its release, Steve, and I’m sure the colormap’s map isn’t a bad omen for anything!