Experience: I taste people’s names

The Guardian - Apr 05, 09:00 GMT

Getting to know someone can’t alter the taste. My niece Sophia is pink foam shrimps

Getting to know someone can’t alter the taste. My niece Sophia is pink foam shrimps. Her brother Leo is thick custard

I was eight years old, having chips and coke in the Cross Cafe in Glasgow, when my auntie Jackie announced she was pregnant and asked my little sister, Jen, and I if we liked the name Sarah. We looked at each other in disgust. “But Sarah tastes like greasy chips,” we roared. Jackie looked at us bewildered, but it was obvious to us: “Everything tastes,” we kept telling her. “Everything tastes!”

I didn’t have the language to tell her that my sister and I have a neurological quirk called synaesthesia, which means our minds attribute a flavour or sensation to every name and place. Synaesthesia is a blending of the senses, related to the way signals in the brain are processed. Our mum has it too, but hers is more vague. It affects 2-4% of the population, although some experience it as a visual or hearing-related quirk, such as associating a word with a colour or musical note. Mine is 90% taste, sometimes sensations or images.

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