Man with rare condition can taste, smell and feel names - and it's bad news if you're called Kirsty
Henry Gray, 23, has always been able to taste, smell or have a feeling associated with words for as long as he can remember.
He discovered he had lexical-gustatory synaesthesia in 2009 – after his parents and teachers picked up on him commenting on the tastes for his classmate's names.
Synaesthesia is a neurological condition that results in the joining or merging of senses that aren't normally connected – those affected can often taste or smell when hearing, speaking, reading or thinking about words.
For Henry the name Boris Johnson tastes like ‘squishing a hard-shelled beetle with his foot’ and Harry Styles is like ‘hair sticking up like telephone wires'.
He also says Donald Trump is like a 'deflating rubber duck'.
Despite his condition, Henry insists that most of the time the feelings are background noise but would struggle to date or be close friends with someone with a name he really disliked.
Henry, a barman, from Newcastle, said: “I've always associated words and names with tastes, smells and feelings - it's all I've ever known.
"To me, Kate Middleton is vaguely like jaggedly cutting cloth with a knife in a church and I can hear it.
“Cameron Diaz is like a sparkly disco ball slowly rotating and Jennifer Lawrence is like sniffing the inside of a shoe.
“One of the worst names for me is Kirsty which is the faint smell of urine.
“I’m not sure I could be close friends with or date a Kirsty.
“It’s hard but I do judge people based on their taste or smell with their name.
“It’s always strongest when I first hear a name or am introduced to someone, but I can normally tune it out in day-to-day life.
"But at university when I moved into halls I was in a flat with a Duncan, Kirsty and Elijah.
"I had to change accommodation because they're some of the worst names- Ducan is like a bird dipped in smoky bacon crisps, Kirsty is a urine smell and Elijah is like liking an eyeball.
"I couldn't form a friendship with them or live with them so I changed halls."
Henry had assumed everyone was able to taste or smell words until his parents and teachers pulled him up on his comments on classmate's names.
“I would say things like Lucy is like a big red lollipop when they called her name out in the register and everyone would look at me confused,” he said.
“Most of the time I quite like having synaesthesia and it doesn’t get in the way.
“I’m a bartender at a pub so whenever I look at people's ID I get a strong sense of the taste and smell.
“Sometimes it could be an image or feeling - like Leanne is a rose leaning on a window.
“The name Francessca is one of my favourites and is silky warm chocolate coffee.”
Henry finds that he often gets the feeling of the word strongly when he first meets someone and can then block it out from then.
The condition mainly affects him with names but other words such as ‘off’ has the smell of rotting and ‘because’ which is like a split wooden clothes peg.
“I love the name Alice which is sliced apples and my sister's name,” he said.
“Hayley is like faint soft music.
“One of the worst is Ian.
“It’s like having a sticky, blocked ear, all gammy and waxy - like the sensation of earache.”
Here Henry lists some of the best and worst and names according to what they taste and smell like to him.
Top female namesFrancesca - Silky warm chocolate cappuccinoSafa - Expresso-soaked sponge cakeAlice - Sliced applesAbby - Orange Hubba BubbaHayley - Faint soft music
Top male namesMitchell - Stretchy cheesy shell pastaTheo - Cotton ball in mouthOscar - Citrus orange juiceMartin - SmartiesBailey - Warm milk
Worst female namesKirsty - Faint urine smellMary - A pile of unwashed pink bed sheets faintly smelling of dampKate - The sensation of burning myself on ice, like falling over on an ice rink and scraping your skin on dry iceNatalie - Like broken wooden splinters in my mouthGertrude - Tastes like when you swallow back your own sickDaisy - Sickly sweet butter that’s been left out in the sun and it’s turned orangeArabella - A long smelly sockDanika - Sharp segments of ready salted crisps lodged in my throatVicky - Like biting into shattered glass.Brittany - Sensation of having my hair caught in something and pulled
Worst male namesHarrison - It’s like an itch on my body that I can’t scratch, it’s everywhere and nowhere - I don’t even like saying ‘Harrison’Elijah - Like licking an eyeball - makes my skin crawl to say itRupert - A beer burpBrad - The sensation of rope burnDylan - A toilet seatBraydon - Genuinely provokes horse manure smeared on a wooden wallTeddy - Beige unwashed settee coversHafsah - Feels like running my fingers through an old person's greasy thin hairIan - A horrible name! It’s like having a sticky, blocked ear, all gammy and waxy - I guess like the sensation of earacheWarren - Feels like heartburn
Celebrity namesBoris Johnson - Is like squishing a hard-shelled beetle with a footJeremy Corbyn - Feels like soft bum-fluff hair on a young man’s chin and cheeksDonald Trump - Is a rubber duck flattened, letting out air as it deflates.Kate Middleton - Is vaguely like jaggedly cutting cloth with a knife in a churchCameron Diaz - Is like a sparkly disco ball slowly rotatingTimothee Chalamet - Is a warm bowl of sugary Sugar PuffsEmma Watson - Is like a tiny pebble dropping into a puddle and it ripplesMatthew McConaughey - Is like choking on a really smoky cigaretteJennifer Lawrence - Is like sniffing inside of a shoeViola Davis - Is like pouring scintillating water from one pretty glass vase into anotherHarry Styles - Is hair sticking up like telephone wiresPhilip Schofield - Really smokyHolly Willoughby - Being something like a hopping kangarooKim Kardashian - Is vaguely kind of like quickly ruffling handkerchiefs around in a hand