Name that car

People have no doubt written about this before, but it has only recently gotten my attention enough to give it more thought.

Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time on highways, where there tend to be a lot of cars, and have realized something.

It used to be that cars had words for names. Many were named for real or mythical creatures. Falcon. Jaguar. Cougar. Beetle. Viper. Thunderbird. Firebird. My first car was a Mustang.

For a while, car names symbolized strong human types: Cavalier. Maverick. Ranger.

Cars were also named for exciting places, like Daytona and Malibu.

Then came a time when inserting a French article made a car seem more exotic: LeSabre. Le Car. LeBaron.

Dodge has been keen on naming cars for objects that represent speed (Dart), fearlessness (Intrepid) and forcefulness (Ram Charger).

I love my car, but wish it had a real name. I drive an Altima. Before that I drove a Sentra. Nissan also makes the Maxima. I’d prefer these be real words: Ultimate, Sentry and Maximum. I don’t know if the Japanese are the ones who first came up with made-up names; they were the ones who also invented Camry, Prius, Yaris and Integra, and introduced the alternatively spelled Infiniti. Honda has done quite well with the Civic and Accord, both nice names and real words with positive associations. Hyundai has the Tucson and Santa Fe, both nice places. Still, made-up names seem to be on the rise. Increasingly, humans are giving their offspring made-up names.

Maybe carmakers have something there. Surely there were countless focus groups that confirmed the appeal of certain made-up words, and it appears from my observations on the road, that these are the cars people are buying. Most luxury car models are beyond words, simply using combinations of letters and digits.

Not one for made-up names for cars or humans, I had to get past buying a car with a nonsense name. I passed up the Accord for the Altima, which I liked far better in the test drive. If I had test driven names alone, I’d have bought the Accord.

How about you? Did your first car have a real word for a name? To what extent did the name factor into the selection of your current car model?


Filed under All Things Wordish, Marketing/Advertising/PR, Travel

5 responses to “Name that car

  1. Joe

    This is what I have always imagined my car to represent:

    …slightly grander than a normal cherokee

  2. Deidra Darsa

    A Maverick. Hated it!

  3. Dianne

    Mine was a ’68 Galaxy 500. Loved it ’til it died a rusted out Michigan winter death. Replaced it with an ’82 Rabbit, which I couldn’t kill no matter how hard I tried. Drove a ’95 Miata – which, I learned is a made up Japanese word, and which I still have for those days when only a top-down two-seater will do – for 10 years after that. My current ride is an Accord, which, if my 6’4″ husband will let me, I intend to replace with a Mini if it ever dies.

  4. Margie

    My husband, the Car Guy, picks the fleet, and names have no significance. The rest of us quickly name these vehicles, making them one of the family. The Durango became ‘Dingo’. The Mercedes (a pretty little convertible) is ‘Sadie’. My PT Cruiser is ‘Pete’. The Jeep is … ‘Jeep’ – sometimes the manufacturers just get the name right…

  5. Sheree Moyer

    My first was a ’68 droptop camaro – a made up name. When buying the boys’ first cars they wanted something “cool” and their argument was that the 68 was my first car. However, as I told them, then it was just a used car. Oh but I did love her!

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