The second we hear the name of something, we form a mental image of it. As a result, it’s vitally important for car designers to portray the right image with their vehicle names, but sometimes they get it very, very wrong…
When it comes to naming a new car design, a team will often start with around a thousand possible names, which will be whittled down to a shortlist of 100 or so. This shortlist then needs to be checked over to make sure the names aren’t offensive, easily (or embarrassingly) mis-pronounced, or give off the wrong image.
Having a foreign translator here can help; General Motors found out in 2005, upon releasing their Buick LaCrosse (pictured) in Canada, that ‘lacrosse’ is French-Canadian teenage slang for masturbation.
Some car manufacturers find a good formula and stick with it through all productions; Lamborghini famously names all its models after bulls, while brands like Mercedes and BMW prefer alpha-numeric names such as the C-class or the 5-series.
Other manufacturers use logical foreign words or concepts for their cars; the Toyota Prius is one such example. As the car was one of the first hybrids on the market, Toyota wanted a name which screamed innovation. They chose Prius, which is Latin for ‘to go before’.
But if you’re going to use a foreign word, make sure it’s a real one. The Lumina (Chevrolet) sounds Latin, French or similar, but in reality it means nothing although it’s close to the Latin word for light, which is ‘lumen’. Not that that has anything to do with the car.
Sometimes manufacturers add something to the name of their models to attract specific buyers. For example, the ‘i’ often found on models is associated with fuel injection systems, which most cars now have, so the extra letter is purely for show. And according to sample quotes done on Moneysupermarket, it doesn’t even affect your insurance.
By far the most popular car names are the ones which conjure up a vicious, aggressive or simply ‘cool’ image. Think of the Dodge Viper, the Chevrolet Corvette, or the Pontiac Firebird; all hotrods often seen at drag racing events. Would they be as popular on the track if they were called the Celebrity or the Executive? I think not…
Alongside the cool, the misguided or the functional descriptive names (Land Rover Explorer being a case in point), are the just plain weird. Not surprisingly, many of the weirdest or quirkiest come from Japanese designers; the Honda Life Dunk and the Daihatsu Naked are two such examples which unfortunately aren’t available in the UK at time of writing.