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What's In A Name?
Jonathan Fahey

General Motors found out last year that a forthcoming Buick sedan called LaCrosse, to be offered in Canada, was French-Canadian teenage slang for masturbation.

Volkswagen's (otc: VLKAY - news - people ) SUV, the Touareg, is not only unpronounceable for many Americans but was also named after a tribe of north African nomads that, it turns out, traded slaves well into the 20th century.

Twice in the last two years Ford Motor (nyse: F - news - people ) has named prototypes of new cars after ones from its storied history only to find out it didn't own the names anymore. The supercar now called the GT was to be called the GT40 after the legendary car from the 1960s. And a new midsized sedan to go on sale next year was to revive the Futura nameplate. It still doesn't have a new name.

"Naming is one of the most arduous and crappy tasks that an organization has to do," said Phil Martens, Ford Motor's group vice president for product creation, recently.

Steve Lyons, president of the Ford division, agreed. "It's harder than naming your children."

And it's happening more often than ever. According to a recent study by AutoPacific, a marketing and product consulting firm, we are at the beginning of the biggest growth in new nameplates in this century. There were 55 nameplates after World War II. There will be 240 this year, and AutoPacific estimates there will be another 32 between now and 2007.

That raises all kinds of problems for carmakers. There's the expense of supporting a nameplate with design and advertising. And because the number of nameplates is growing faster than sales, each nameplate will have to be profitable selling far fewer copies. Then, of course, there's the issue of finding a good name.

"The English language dictionary is largely taken," says James Bell, a senior partner at New York-based brand consulting firm Lippincott Mercer. Hence neologisms, which date at least as far back as Kodak. The name was conceived by founder George Eastman more than a century ago. What was the rationale behind calling his company Kodak instead of, say, Eastman? Eastman's comments to the British Patent Office when registering his trademark read like a primer from Marketing 101:

"This is not a foreign name or word; it was constructed by me to serve a definite purpose. It has the following merits as a trade-mark word: first it is short; second, it is not capable of mispronunciation; third, it does not resemble anything in the art and cannot be associated with anything in the art."

Some carmakers will hire firms like Bell's to do just that for them--Lippincott Mercer created the Infiniti name for Nissan (nasdaq: NSANY - news - people ). Bell, who has been a crossword puzzle buff since he was 10, and a team of five or six other wordsmiths (the puns in the office, Bell says, are frequent and frequently bad) come up with an initial list of as many as 1,000 names.

Then a committee will wade through the list and pick 100 or so that are the most appropriate--ones that can be pronounced, that might resonate with the intended market and don't offend the wrong people. Anything longer than three syllables almost never works. (Except, of course, for Lamborghini, which doesn't worry about naming a car Murciélago, after a bull by that name that gored a matador in 1879. All Lamborghinis are named after bulls.)

Those 100 names will be checked against the list of registered names with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The 30 that remain will go to the client. After the client cuts that list down to 10 or 15, more legal work is done, checking for competition internationally and state by state. Also, some linguistic work is done to make sure something the carmaker might be selling in Brazil doesn't mean "this car is a death trap" in Portuguese.

After the choices are down to a handful, logos and slogans are developed, and often the candidates are put through clinics with would-be customers. Eventually, the client picks one. The cost can reach into the high six figures, mostly for the legal legwork.

Sometimes it isn't nearly so difficult. The designers for DaimlerChrysler's (nyse: DCX - news - people ) Chrysler Crossfire used the name when they were dreaming it up. It stuck and passed all the legal hurdles in front of it. A Honda Motor (nyse: HMC - news - people ) product planner came up with the Insight name for Honda's first hybrid vehicle.

When Toyota Motor (nyse: TM - news - people ) was trying to name its new luxury brand in the mid-1980s, it was kicking around names like Celsius and Alexis. When someone on the team heard the "Alexis" proposal, the person didn't hear a woman's name but "a Lexus" instead. It stuck, but not before a battle with LexisNexis, the research company that is now a Reed Elsevier (nyse: ENL - news - people ) division.

Sometimes names are too successful. Honda Motor's Acura division produced a popular Legend sedan from Acura's debut in 1986 through the mid-1990s. But the Legend name inspired more devotion than the Acura name. "We wanted anyone who was driving an Acura to think first that they were driving an Acura," says Honda spokesman Andy Boyd.

Acura now does what almost every other luxury nameplate does--abandons names altogether. Acura makes an RSX, a TSX, a TL, an RL and an MDX. They aren't exactly poetry, and the letters stand for absolutely nothing. The idea is that people driving smallish, exclusive brands will think and talk of the brand, and not the nameplate. That's not so possible for a full-line brand like Ford. Say you drive a Ford and you could be talking about a $15,000 Focus subcompact, a 10,000-pound F-350 SuperDuty or a Ford GT that goes 200 mph.

Cadillac is in the process of abandoning names like Catera, Seville and Deville for the supposedly sleeker CTS (derived from Catera Touring Sedan), STS (Seville Touring Sedan) and DTS (Deville Touring Sedan). Mercedes similarly has its C-class, E-class and S-class, and BMW its 3-series, 5-series, 6-series and 7-series. In both cases, the numbers next to the initial character, C240 or 760i, for example, refer to the displacement of the engine. So the 760i has a 6.0 liter engine. The "i"? It's meaningless. "It used to stand for fuel injection," says a BMW spokesman. But now, because all engines sport fuel injection, "it's just a historical thing."

Other names have more purpose behind them. Toyota named its hybrid Prius, which Toyota wanted the world to see as a technological marvel, because the word is Latin for "to go before."

In the mid-1980s, General Motors (nyse: GM - news - people ) gave the small-car brand it was creating the code name Saturn. Not after the planet, or the Roman god of fertility and agriculture, though. The name refers to the Saturn rocket that sent Americans to the moon during the space race with the Soviet Union. The idea was that with Saturn, GM could beat the Japanese in the small-car race.

How many people know what Prius means in Latin, or that Saturn doesn't refer to the planet? Not many. This is one of the things that bothers Ford's Martens so much about naming. "The customer doesn't care about the name," he says. "They just want a good car."

source
 

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When I visited family in South America about 20 years ago, a cousin of mine had a Chevy Nova, but with a "Chevy II" model nameplate. I told him that this name was also used in the American version in the car early on, but that it eventually became the "Chevy Nova".

He told me that Chevy originally introduced the cars as "Novas" in Argentina as well, but sales were horrible until they renamed it to "Chevy II". Apparently, the spoken word "Nova" can be translated as "it doesn't go anywhere". Whoops. :brick:
 

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I can understand why Lexus, Infiniti, and Acura want the Brand name to be first and not the nameplate. But I don't understand why Cadillac is taking this direction. The Asian companies are new and need people to associate their Brands with luxury. But Cadillac is established. Everyone knows that when someone drives a Cadillac they drive the highest kind of luxury car. So why not have nameplates. (Whose gonna miss CTS, SRX, XLR, PJE, DWH, and LBQ as names anyway.) Cadillac should at least keep Escalade, which I think they will. Its on a different level from the cars, and it has become so established in American culture the last three years. If they change the name people may see it as discontinuing the Escalade (not a good conclusion that many people may draw) rather than redesigning it.

Also, I hate that Pontiac is dropping nameplates. Does G6 sound fast?? What about G8?? It's got a bigger number...what does that mean?? Which one am I driving anyway?? Does Firebird sound fast?? What about Grand Prix?? Trans Am?? OH YEAH!!! The "performance" and "excitement" division needs exciting names.

Guy 1: "Hey, I just got the new G6."
Guy 2: "Finally, didn't your vacuum cleaner break down a month ago."

OR

Guy 1: "Hey, I just got the '07 Firebird."
Guy 2: "That's awesome, where is it, take me for a ride."
 

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Originally posted by Rex Raider@Jul 13 2004, 01:20 AM
The story behind Nova's "no go" in Spanish is false.

Check out the real story here: SNOPES
Thanks for the link, it was an interesting article.

Even when I blindly believed the legend, I found it hard to believe it would affect sales that much. When I hear "Murano" I think of the word "moron", but that wouldn't affect my decision to buy, nor do I feel that Nissan is marketing the vehicle to morons exclusively.
 

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Originally posted by akumaknight@Jul 12 2004, 10:03 PM
I for one am getting tired of 3 lettter names, and number names.. the whole trademark crap is getting old... I mean seriously.. at the rate its going there wont be any names for any thing eventually.
Soon we won't be able to name our own kids without first checking for copyrights or trademarks first.

THis legal BS that started in the mid 90's or "sue everyone, theres probably something they did that you can, and even if there isn't something, your lawyers will make something up" is really getting old. Life would be better without lyers...errr um, lawyers.
 

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I know what you mean about naming concept drawings (I've got a book full but they all a suck. I've started looking to latin and japanese words.

like; Ignus Noctu (loosely translated, according to the the on-line converter, that basicly means fire by night or night fire. I need to check and see if thats been taken...)
 

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Originally posted by airbalancer@Jul 13 2004, 07:13 AM
Chevy really has look into the naming of their new cars
Aveo
Cobalt
Equinox
Epica
Optra
Venture( the worest Van I ever had)
Malibu Maxx
When I hear these names nothing comes to mind :huh:
Aveo makes me think of the suzuki aerio....they sound kinda similar....at least to me.
Cobalt is a metal used in high performance high efficiency electric motors.
An equinox is the oposite of a solstice, it is the two times in the year when the sun is the farthest away from the sun....i think...lol
Epica, well...it has epic in it...probably supposed to sound grandeuse.
Optra...doesnt make any sense top me either lol.
Venture is probably supposed to appeal to the more adventurous side of all those people who need a minivan for their children...or soccermoms who aren't afraid of stereotypes.
Malibu maxx....is the maximum size of malibu....hence...maxx....

Most of them are pretty logical names if you think about it. Except optra...that's just plain stupid...lol..
 

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My favorite name is the toyota TRD if you try to sound it out it's "turd" so every time I see it I think it's another "turd" pickup. But then again I think it's fitting for toyota.
 

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Originally posted by logansowner+Jul 12 2004, 10:26 PM--></div><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (logansowner @ Jul 12 2004, 10:26 PM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'> <!--QuoteBegin-akumaknight@Jul 12 2004, 10:03 PM
I for one am getting tired of 3 lettter names, and number names.. the whole trademark crap is getting old... I mean seriously.. at the rate its going there wont be any names for any thing eventually.
Soon we won't be able to name our own kids without first checking for copyrights or trademarks first.

THis legal BS that started in the mid 90's or "sue everyone, theres probably something they did that you can, and even if there isn't something, your lawyers will make something up" is really getting old. Life would be better without lyers...errr um, lawyers. [/b][/quote]
Funny you say that. While this is true I've always found it intersting (and confusing) at how many cars carry the 'LS' moniker. There is the aging Lincoln LS-6 and LS-8, The stodgy Lexus LS 430, Saturn LS-series, and numerous other models that use LS as an abbreviation for a trim level. This includes or has included nearly all models in the Chevrolet line-up, the Mazda Miata, Mitsubishi Galant, Isuzu Rodeo, Mercury Gand Marquis, Buick Regal, Acura Integra, Mercury Sable, Kia Sephia, Mercury Mystique, and Mercury Topaz. And last, but not least, the incredible LS engine series (LS-1, LS-2, LS-6, etc.). I'm not sure what LS stands for (Luxury Sport?) but in most cases, I'm sure it means nothing. Whatever their purpose these are 2 letters together that should be retired.

As for Cadillac, I think all would agree that the 3-letter model name conversion has been a disaster. Proof of this came a couple years ago when the head of Cadillac himself confused the names of several of their own models at a press conference. Nearly everyone I know is so confused by the new naming series at Cadillac that they refer to each model simply as 'the small one', 'the medium sized one', and 'that cool sports car'. This can't be beneficial to Cadillac at all. I personally would prefer to call my new Caddy an Eldorado (what a great name) than an XLR (or is that the name of the SUV?) or a Seville rather than an STS.

I have always liked Cadillac for being a little different than everyone else so its a real shame they feel the need to play catch-up with everyone else in this department.
 

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Since were on the topic of car names, The truck names to make sence. At least you know what a Silverado, Suburban and Tahoe are, but there is a couple that I kinda wonder about. What does the "S10" mean? It's a cool truck but I always wanted to figure out what the S and the 10 mean. Also why did Chevy have two trucks with the Blazer name and why did they Change the K5 Blazer name into the Tahoe?
 

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Originally posted by 88montess@Jul 13 2004, 03:12 PM
My favorite name is the toyota TRD if you try to sound it out it's "turd" so every time I see it I think it's another "turd" pickup. But then again I think it's fitting for toyota.
You beat me to this one! I wanted to point out the TuRD!
 

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Originally posted by karhopper@Jul 13 2004, 06:22 PM
Since were on the topic of car names, The truck names to make sence. At least you know what a Silverado, Suburban and Tahoe are, but there is a couple that I kinda wonder about. What does the "S10" mean? It's a cool truck but I always wanted to figure out what the S and the 10 mean. Also why did Chevy have two trucks with the Blazer name and why did they Change the K5 Blazer name into the Tahoe?
Chevy pickups back then didn't have any model name other than C-10, C-20, and so on, so they wanted the new small truck to be named like the big trucks little brother. (There were Silverado, Cheyenne, and Scottsdale trim packages, but the trucks themselves were "C-series",) ) "C" has always been the internal line and chassis type code for GM full size pickups and SUV's and "S" is for the smaller trucks. The VIN of a new 2WD Blazer, S10, Colorado, and TrailBlazer all have an "S" in the 5th character.

Having owned 3 full-sized Blazers, I was very disappointed when they changed the Blazer's name to Tahoe in '95. It didn't make sense to me for a number of reasons: the S10 Blazer had a major redesign that year and the Blazer did not, so why give the new name to the carryover truck; and Tahoe had been a trim package on S10 vehicles since they came out in '82, and now it was supposed to be a full-size sport utility?

I'm glad they split the names up, because it always bugged me when people would say they had a Blazer, when really it was an S10 Blazer - that was it's official name from '83 - '94. The full-size was just Blazer, although they did use K-5 with it sometimes. But the smaller truck should have been the Tahoe.

I did manage to get past this and buy two more two-door Tahoes, but I would have rather been driving "Blazers".

Jeez, what a rant this turned into...
 
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