What’s in a name – Automotive edition

Lamborghini Countach blonde

A car’s name means a lot.  It gives you a sense of what it is, what can it do for you, how it can make your life better.  There’s a great Seinfeld bit where he ponders the fact that “no baron has ever owned a LeBaron” and, at least in the mid 1990s, automakers would “mangle a positive word into a car name”.  He lists a few great Japanese performance cars and their names.

“Integra.” Oh, integrity? No, Integra. The “Supra.” Or the “Impreza.” Yeah? Well, I hope it’s not a “lemona”…or you’ll be hearing from my “lawya.”

In today’s automotive world, it seems that most automakers are going alpha-numeric. I blame the Germans.  However, there are still some great carmakers around using real live names, but not many.  Out of (35) nameplates on Edmunds.com, only (16) of them use something beyond just letters and numbers. That’s sad since most cars used to have real names that meant something.  But do the ones that are still around actually mean anything?  Our crack investigative team went to find out*.

Honda Accord CoupeAccord – Oh Honda, this entire column (article? farce?) could have been written about you.  It’s like a Honda intern in Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-8556 (In case you want to visit) opened up a World History textbook years ago and started combing the pages for names for their cars.  Peace Accord, that sounds like something we’d like to be associated with!  Webster defines it as “to give (something, such as special treatment or status) to someone or something”.  Nailed it.

dodge avenger

Avenger – Dodge almost got a pass.  The names of all their 2015 cars are real, and they’re pretty cool.  Challenger, Charger, Durango, Dart, Journey, Viper!  But then I looked at the 2014s.  There I found not only one of the worst rental cars I’ve ever driven, but perhaps one of the most inaccurately named cars on this list.  The Avenger.  When you picture someone avenging something, you picture Batman, The Bride from Kill Bill, Brandon Lee in The Crow, or maybe Denzel in Man on Fire.  Carnage, bullets flying, bodies stacking up.  Vengeance.  Look at the car above and tell me what it’s avenging?  Long lines at Enterprise?  The asshole at the Hertz counter who said you’re not eligible to upgrade to that Elantra?  Perhaps the most appropriate bit is that to “avenge” means to “inflict harm in return for an injury or wrong done to oneself or another”. It certainly did that to anyone who bought, or was unfortunate enough to spend time in, one.  Thankfully, the Avenger is dead.  Good riddance.

Chevrolet CamaroCamaro – Let’s break this one down since it’s a real word, but not really a real word.  Cam, that sounds automotive.  It has a camshaft, right?  Or maybe Cameron Frye, Ferris Bueller’s buddy.  His Dad had a cool car.  Aro, reminds me of “aero” but it’s shaped like a turnip so that can’t be.  Maybe it’s camshafts are aerodynamic!  I think we’re onto something here.  Maro, I don’t get much out of that.  Bone marrow perhaps?  Do Camaro owners donate more bone marrow than other car owners?  That sounds like a very worthwhile study.  I’ll call NIH, maybe we can get a grant.

buick enclaveEnclave – An enclave is, by definition, a “a place or group that is different in character from those surrounding it” (emphasis mine). But that’s the definition of the word, there is nothing saying GM actually means that this is any different than your average SUV.  Particularly since it’s on the GM Lambda platform which the Traverse, Acadia, and Saturn Outlook share.  Well, shared in the Saturn’s case.  Rest in peace.  Meanwhile, I’m imagining that there’s an intern at Buick somewhere shouting “holy shit, someone in DC just Googled “Buick Enclave”.  But hey, at least Buick uses real names, not some alphanumeric crap.  Could be worse.  The name that is, their SUV could be much better.

hyundai genesisGenesis – There is something about Asia that has always assured us ‘Muricans will get some awesome car names.  Above you see the Hyundai Genesis, the origin, the beginning of the Bible, the band Genesis.  That’s a lot to live up to.  It’s certainly not the first Hyundai.  Inside, you won’t find Phil Collins OR Peter Gabriel.  Although the average owner’s iPod probably has them.  It’s not even the best most expensive, that honor basic factual statement goes to the Equus!  And that’s a genus of mammals that include the African Wild Ass.  Lovely.  Thanks Korea!  Maybe you should stick to naming SUVs after Southwestern cities.  You know who doesn’t suck at it, Cousin Kia!  I figured they did, but in fact Cadenza means “virtuoso solo passage inserted into a movement in a concerto or other work”.  Forte means “a thing at which someone excels”.  Optima is the plural form of “optimum”.  Son of a bitch, well played Kia, well played.

gran somethingGran….Something – Oh BMW, what auto journo piece lambasting naming nomenclature would be complete without you?  Ze Germans from Bavaria will sell you a coupe (even numbers), a sedan (odd numbers), or a Gran Coupe Sedan, like the 4-series pictured above.  Which is a sedan.  With a sloping roofline.  Making it also a coupe.  A Gran coupe.  Wait, I just said even numbers have two doors!  God damn it.  Gran is a mid 19th century abbreviation for Grandmother.  Ok, that’s not very cool.  But wait, there’s more gran-goodness.  They will also sell you a 3 Series Gran Turismo Hatchback!  So that’s a 3-series, which means 4-door at least.  Right?  Well, it’s a hatchback, so it’s similar to the 4-series (which again, is a 4-door)?  Well at least the name is cooler.  This one means a “high-performance model of automobile” and comes from mid 20th century Italian, literally meaning ‘great touring.’  Got it?  Wait, no.  Purely alpha-numeric BMW was less confusing.

Chevrolet malibuMalibu – There’s an old adage in the business world, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have”.  I get the feeling that someone at Chevrolet read that in a magazine at some point and decided to name their car after a very affluent place.  Of course the name originates from a trim level on the Chevelle back in the 60s, but it is actually named after the LA suburb in California and fits this car like a smedium t-shirt fits the Rock.  Poorly.  We already covered the Camaro, but Chevy gets two vehicles on this list.  That’s because Chevy is the most Japanese of the American car companies in the sense that most of their names make little sense.  Silverado, Spark, Sonic, Cruze, Equinox, Traverse.  Again, this whole pile of crap article could focus on Chevy. Those crazy bastards.  Perhaps next time, I’m not done with you yet Chevrolet.

Toyota RAV4RAV4 – This sounds like it really means something and was the genesis of the concept for this article.  See what I did there?  Acronyms could be R…..something-Activity-Vehicle.  Maybe RavenousResponsiveRaucousRave?  No, those don’t really fit, do they?  I’m certainly not piling this thing full of E and glow sticks and going to the abandoned warehouse district to dance all night.  So what about RationalRespectfulRelatively-Unobtrusive?  And “4”, that has to mean something, right?  4 wheels?  Seats 4?  Number of times the average owner contemplates suicide a day?

Nissan VersaVersa – I almost gave Nissan a pass.  Like Dodge, they have some solid names.  Armada, Pathfinder, Frontier, Rogue, Titan!  These are things that make me feel manly and important as a car buyer (even if you’re a chick).  Heck like it or not, even Juke, Cube and Leaf describe the overall feeling of those vehicles.  And then there’s the Versa.  Like Seinfeld said, I’m supposed to think of positive words like “versatile” right?  So this must come in various configurations, maybe a hatchback or wagon version?  No.  It’s the only the bland, entry-level sedan you see above.  Regardless of what Nissan may show you on TV (please stop violating physics btw) the Versa is not “able to adapt or be adapted to many different functions or activities” as the definition would suggest.  It comes in (5) exterior and (1) interior color and will haul about 14.9 cu.ft.of stuff.  One of those multi-colored click-pens back in the 80s was more versatile, and had more color options! This Nissan sounds versatile but if it came down to this versa killing yourself buying a bus pass, I would go mass transit any day.


So there you have it.  Automakers are still making shit up, which should come as no surprise.  After all, as enthusiasts we yearn for strong names names like Mustang, Cougar, Maverick, and Goose.  Wait.  I mean names like Charger, Cobra, Carrera, Countach, Corvette, and LaFerrari.  Sorry, I’m losing my focus, scratch that last one.

This wasn’t meant to be an indictment of non-alpha-numeric names.  And many of you will have registered your displeasure with me and defend names like these without reading down to this section.  I will then call you out for not reading the entire article.  You’ve been warned.  Tune in next time for “What’s in a name”.  Thanks for watching, good night.

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*We basically went to Edmunds.com (where we found all these ridiculously consistent images) and the Google, where we asked it to define things for us.  Which it did without protest.

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