Ordinal linguistic personification and personification in general

Personification is the attribution of human characteristics and qualities to inanimate objects or concepts: gender, personality, human appearance, clothes and accessories, likes and dislikes, feelings and relationships with the other objects or concepts in their group. When these associations are considered a type of synesthesia they are usually formed during childhood and are stable, tending to show no variation over the synesthete’s lifetime.
The term used to describe this phenomenon as applied to series or sequences of concepts is ordinal linguistic personification, often abbreviated to OLP. The name grapheme personification can also be used to talk about letter personification and number personification, two of its most common manifestationsThe less frequent names “sequence-personality” and “social synesthesia” have also been used.

What is the prevalence of ordinal linguistic personification?

For the moment there are no conclusive figures, but it seems to be a relatively common type of synesthesia. An interesting study by Amin et. al (2011) found it to be very common among the synesthetic population: 33% of the 248 synesthetes interviewed reported attributing gender and/or personality to letters or numbers. However, on repeating the test some months later, only 10% described their personalities in a sufficiently similar way to be considered genuine grapheme personifiers. Sean Day and Julia Simner/Emma Holenstein suggest a prevalence of just under 5%. However, judging by the enormous numbers of detailed personal accounts that are readily described on enquiring about it, I suspect that the figure is likely to be higher than 10%, or 20% even, and that it is actually one of the most common types of synesthesia. The difficulty of designing a simple, reliable test to determine the degree of consistency like those that exist for grapheme-colour, for example, stands in the way of obtaining a representative figure.

When is it considered synesthesia?

Some types of personification are considered synesthesia, despite showing some differences from what is normally accepted as such. These differences are firstly that the synesthetic concurrent is figurative or conceptual, while synesthesia normally triggers more abstract materialisations such as colours or geometric shapes, and secondly because it appears that it is not exclusively experienced by synesthetes, although it seems to be much more common and manifest more strongly in synesthetes than in non-synesthetes. (For types of personification that are not considered synesthesia, see the description below.)

These are the main types of personification considered synesthesia: They all consist of personification of elements in series or sequences. The links lead to the page about each type.

Grapheme personification



Personification of other sequences

Days and months


Objects or other elements forming part of series or sequences (some more abstract examples include directions, school subjects or cities; more concrete examples that could perhaps also be considered synesthesia include fruit and furniture)

An interesting example in this category is:

Cutlery personification (knives, forks and spoons)

Personification of musical sequences

Notes, chords, key, timbre and other musical sequences

And when is it not synesthesia?

Here are some types of personification that are not considered synesthesia:

- Pareidolia: automatically recognising faces and other human traits in inanimate figures, such as faces formed by the doors and windows of houses or by cracks or marks on the wall, human figures in clouds or on a piece of burnt toast, etc. This is more connected with pattern recognition, or a memory-prediction reflex reaction.

- Empathy for inanimate objects: this often occurs with sensitive people in general, people on the autism spectrum and synesthetes. It consists of frequently having attitudes such as feeling sad for objects that have been left alone, the desire to protect an object left out in the cold, attempting to treat all objects equally and not favouring one over others, etc. It is a sensitive, endearing habit that can give rise to perfectly innocuous behaviour such as buying the last product left on the shelf in a shop or one with torn packaging “because nobody wants it”, or becoming very attached to one’s personal belongings, making it difficult to get rid of them when they are no longer useful. However in a few more serious cases it can contribute to disorders such as compulsive hoarding or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

- Animistic thinking: attributing human characteristics to stuffed toys, dolls and other much-loved possessions, as small children do before they learn to correctly distinguish between the animate and the inanimate. When someone gives their car or computer a name, it is probably a manifestation of this type of thinking, for example. It can only be clearly considered a type of synesthesia if it applies to series or sequences of objects, and in this case it would normally occur in people who already have other types of synesthesia.

This page last updated: 15 November 2022


  1. Does it fall under synesthesia if you had a regular ongoing story about something specific? When I was younger there was this elaborate story-esc thing where I had a favorite of my left and right side, and there was something about assassination and how the least favorite needed to pose as the favorite to avoid death and whatever. That one may have just been an overactive imagination, but I also distinctly remember specific numbers being related or friends. Mostly low multiples of five. Five and fifteen were brothers, ten was their vaguely annoying little brother, and twelve was their female tomboy friend. This is mostly just to get it off my chest but if it does in fact fall under the category please tell me

    1. Yes, I think so. If you had personalities for numbers, as you say, and the ongoing stories you created were related to personification of some kind of group, series or sequence in your daily life, then all that would fit in with having OLP, yes. (I'm not sure what you're saying about your left and right side, but if you're personifying parts of your body like your right and left hand for example then that's it!). Sorry it took me a few days to see and answer your comment!

  2. I personify directions, like left, right, up, and down. Is this synesthesia?

    1. Yes, that would certainly fit into the category of sequence personification, and it's a good example in fact because you're personfiying something intangible that couldn't be considered to have a human form in any way so it wouldn't be confused with animistic thinking.

  3. whenever i write the letters act up as my extended family which I am very scared of, and it feels like I can read them through the letters and they reat accordingly like letter N is an uncle A is his duaghter Sh is an aunt So is her duaghter R is a collective and T is another aunt B is another brother M is his cruel father W is the mother... and the letters transition sometimes as well like a subconcious reaction.. is this OLP ?

  4. objects have names in my minds eye automatically. thumbs are
    charles, kitchen cabinets are gretchen. Ground carrots are grover
    Coffee is Phillip,glass tables are Andrew, wood tables are Phyllis, and they all have different personalities. Every inanimate object has a name and different personality that has been the same my whole life? Is that considered synesthesia? I've always been so embarrassed about it.

    1. I love this! As to whether it should be considered synesthesia, really it depends on the kind of sequences you personify. If you personify letters, numbers, days of the week, months or other series of abstract concepts, then that’s definitely considered synesthesia. As to series of objects, probably not, although there could be a case for it sometimes if they fit into the definition of a series that you learn all together. Perhaps this page of the Tree:
      could give you some insight, if you haven’t already seen it.
      You could also think about whether you have other types of synesthesia, like automatically having colours for letters, numbers or words (grapheme-colour), or sequence-colour synesthesia with time units like days or months or other concepts which might even include series of objects. If you don’t have any other types of synesthesia at all, then perhaps it would be more likely that this isn’t related to syn.
      I think it’s so fascinating though. I read about another case of this once, someone for whom all foods had names as well as very distinct personalities, although they’d only started noticing it recently in this case. But it stuck in my mind, as the “Strawberries are all named Chester. They are western cowboys, and wear leather” thing just seemed to me to be fascinating, memorable, and great fun :D Perhaps you would like to read it, it was on Reddit, although several years ago:
      So you’re definitely not alone and there may be many more people who have something similar but like you they feel a bit embarrassed to talk about it…