What’s in a name? Car names and why trends work

Hi all! It’s post-Christmas Kate, returning with 2016’s first edition of motoring advice for my fellow young drivers. This time I’m delving into the weird and wonderful world of car names. Whether it’s a delightfully descriptive denomination designed to shift cars off the lot, or just a throwaway moniker that sums up a car’s characteristics, a name can bring a car to life. Here’s how and why it works.

Drivers prefer to give cars a name

Regular readers will know that I christened my old Fiesta ‘Frankie’. Well, my brilliant Dad took my unsubtle hint and, from my blog list of affordable cars, bought me a new 2015 Vauxhall Corsa for Christmas, and I’m working on a name for it – it helps me feel attached to it, making it more likely I’ll maintain it and drive safely in it.

Research from the US shows that I’m far from alone, with a huge rate of respondents admitting to having done the same for similar reasons. Here’s the top entries:

Overall winners:

  1. Betsy
  2. Bessy
  3. Baby
  4. Betty
  5. The Beast
  6. Sally
  7. Bertha
  8. Lucy
  9. Big Red
  10. Buddy
Pop culture themed:

  1. The Enterprise
  2. The Batmobile
  3. Optimus Prime
  4. Millennium Falcon


Answers from men and women are almost identical: the only differences are ‘Turbo’ and ‘The Beast’ on the male list, which are replaced by ‘Precious’ (blurgh) and ‘Herbie’ on the female list.

Leave car naming to the experts (or, maybe not)

Car manufacturers have two main goals in mind when naming a new car. First, the name should say something about the car and its purpose. Second, the car should be an identifiable part of the manufacturer’s brand. Sounds simple, no? After all, marketing execs are paid good money for a reason – but even then, there’s no guarantee they’ll get it right (as we’ll see!). However, there are some definite fundamentals that help manufacturers to achieve their goals.

Manufacturer car names: snappy or evocative?

The latest fad for naming cars is to come up with a whole new word that expresses a little about the car, but ultimately just sounds good coming out of the mouths of the target demographic. For example, take the Renault Twizy – a two-seater electric mite of a car – or its slightly more sensible cousin the Twingo. SEAT have got in on the act too, paying no heed to grammatical lore with the release of the Mii.

Other manufacturers choose to take a more literal approach, using the name to express a characteristic of the car, or an aspiration of the prospective driver. Great car names include the likes of the rugged Land Rover Discovery (named for its off-road abilities) and the electric Nissan Leaf (so called for its advanced eco-credentials).

Names that denote origin

Many car companies choose to imbue their cars with some of the character of their perceived country of origin. Take SEAT, a Spanish car manufacturer owned by the German VW group, who have chosen names like Ibiza and Leon (rather than Düsseldorf or Mönchengladbach, which are likely to be closer to where most components were made) in order to give a touch of Latin flair. Ford likewise think that the European market would be more attracted by names like Fiesta and Mondeo, only recently making the all-action muscle car Mustang available here.

But there can be some issues surrounding translation. Perhaps the most diverse are the Japanese car manufacturers, who have come up with timeless classics such as the Nissan Homy Super Long, Mazda Scrum Wagon and Isuzu Mysterious Utility Wizard. Others are a little more unfortunate, like the Chevrolet Nova (which sounds exotic to Americans but translates to “it doesn’t go” down in Mexico), or the Mazda LaPuta (“the whore” in Spanish, sorry).

Keeping it simple and maintaining brand trust

Finally, there’s the value that manufacturers see in establishing a name and keeping hold of it for life. Peugeot are known for their simple naming structure (108, 208, 308 etc.) and it was well publicised back in 2012 that the French car company would forgo popular abbreviations to maintain this logic for customers. There seems to be method in this approach too, as classic car names were given new life during the recession, encouraging buyers to trust reputation even at a time of austerity. Hence, the return of the Fiat 500, popularity of the Mini, and re-invention of Citroën’s DS range.

But some of them just got it all wrong…

So, there you have it: I hope you’ve enjoyed my irreverent review of car names and their origins. If you’re on the lookout for a new car and want some great advice from friendly experts, why not stop by at your local Perrys dealership today?