(Image: Lee McLean/SWNS)Henry Gray has synaesthesia and says he enjoys the rare condition, although it means he could never date a Kirsty – or be close friends with anyone called Ian
Meet the man with a rare condition who can taste, smell and feel words – who reveals he’d never date a Kirsty because the name smells of urine and says Donald Trump is like a ‘deflating rubber duck’.
Henry Gray, 23, has always been able to taste, smell or have a feeling associated with words for as long as he can remember and 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’.
( Image: Lee McLean/SWNS)
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, Tyne and Wear, 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.”
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.
Do you have synaesthesia? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
“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’ have the smell of rotting and ‘because’ which is like a split wooden clothes peg.
“l 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 names
Francesca – Silky warm chocolate cappacino
Safa – Expresso-soaked sponge cake
Alice – Sliced apples
Abby – Orange Hubba Bubba
Hayley – Faint soft music
Top male names
Mitchell – Stretchy cheesy shell pasta
Theo – Cotton ball in mouth
Oscar – Citrus orange juice
Martin – Smarties
Bailey – Warm milk
Worst female names
Kirsty – Faint urine smell
Mary – A pile of unwashed pink bed sheets faintly smelling of damp
Kate – The sensation of burning myself on ice, like falling over on an ice rink and scraping your skin on dry ice
Natalie – Like broken wooden splinters in my mouth
Gertrude – Tastes like when you swallow back your own sick
Daisy – Sickly sweet butter that’s been left out in the sun and it’s turned orange
Arabella – A long smelly sock
Danika – Sharp segments of ready salted crisps lodged in my throat
Vicky – Like biting into shattered glass.
Brittany – Sensation of having my hair caught in something and pulled
Worst male names
Harrison – 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 it
Rupert – A beer burp
Brad – The sensation of rope burn
Dylan – A toilet seat
Braydon – Genuinely provokes horse manure smeared on a wooden wall
Teddy – Beige unwashed settee covers
Hafsah – Feels like running my fingers through an old person’s greasy thin hair
Ian – A horrible name! It’s like having a sticky, blocked ear, all gammy and waxy – I guess like the sensation of earache
Warren – Feels like heartburn