this physics hypertextbook site discusses color in physics and the history of the color names:
The human eye can distinguish something on the order of 7 to 10 million colors — that’s a number greater than the number of words in the English language (the largest language on earth).
“The simple named colors are mostly monosyllabic in English — red, green, blue, brown, black, white, gray. (Yellow is the one exception to this rule, but it’s still pretty simple.) Brevity indicates a pre-English, Anglo-Saxon origin. Monosyllabic words are generally the oldest words in the English language — head, eye, nose, foot, cat, dog, cow, eat, drink, man, wife, house, sleep, rain, snow, sword, sheath, God, and the “four letter words” — words that go back a thousand years. Some of the names for colors are loan words from French — orange and beige, since the “zh” sound doesn’t exist in pure English (garage is a very french word) and violet and purple, since they just sound too fancy to be anglo-saxon.
That raises an interesting point. Did the English (or the Angles and the Saxons) “see” orange before the French told them about it? Did the French see orange before the Spanish told them about it? Did the Spanish see orange before the Arabs told them about it? Why does Islam identify with green? Why do Russians identify with red? Why do the Dutch groove on orange? (These are rhetorical questions. Please don’t email me your answers.) Where do I put black, white, gray, purple, and brown? What the hell is indigo? “