What’s in a name?


Ever wondered what lies behind the decision what to name a car? Suzuki ‘Swift’, Kia ‘Picanto’ or Nissan ‘Leaf’?

Car companies employ marketers to think of names very specific to the market, a certain lifestyle or just something a bit different. Each car has a character and the marketers have to whittle down hundreds of possibilities to form a short list.

In the 60’s and 70’s the ideas were fairly simple, based on power and speed — Challenger, Mustang, Thunderbird. In a varied and global vehicle market, great care has to be taken to ensure that no protected trademark names are used, although some can be bought. Volkswagen purchased the name ‘Bora’ (meaning: Mediterranean wind) from Maserati. More wind names followed — the Jetta (jet stream), Passat (German for trade wind), Polo (polar winds) and possibly a revelation for some — the VW Golf is named, not after the sport, but after the Gulf Stream.

More recent popular themes are animals and place names like the Kia Rio, or evoking positive feelings like the Suzuki Vitara with its catchphrase ‘life goes good’. The type of car or its intended purpose can provide other simple options, the Nissan Combi, Micra and X-Trail.

Numbers and letters are frequently used, for example the BMW with their 318i, 335i, M3 to name a few. These corresponded with the engine size and power, although nowadays there are more factors involved, such as indicating a hybrid which can lengthen the description.

Sometimes companies make up a word from a mixture of words connected to the production of the car, ie the MiTo from the factories of Milan and Turin (Torino), or they take a phrase such as the French ‘Le Monde’ meaning ‘the world’ and form the name ‘Mondeo’ in the way Ford did.

You may not have taken much notice of the name of your car or not see it as too relevant when choosing your new one, but perhaps take a moment to consider where the name came from and the hours the huddle of marketers took to come up with the perfect one for you!

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