- The Washington Times - Monday, September 12, 2005

The chances are good that none of us will ever be the proud owner of a Ford Weezer, a Chevy Geezer or a Buick Bomb. No, no. Those won’t do in the world of automobiles, where car names are high art, maybe even haiku.

But there are vehicles tooling along out there with names that seem much removed from the driving experience.

Consider the Toyota Prius, which sounds like a minor Norse god or perhaps a symptom of a gastrointestinal condition. The Prius. Does it connote the whir of pistons, the whoosh of wind, the whirl of wheels?

Well, maybe the whoosh of wind.

We also could question the cadence, the onomatopoeia, the very cultural core of the Nissan Murano — which in truth sounds like salsa or a condiment, as in, “Please pass the Murano.”

Needless to say, there’s also the Hyundai Azera, Ford Tungsten, Pontiac Torrent and the Volkswagen Touareg, to name a few of the more mystifying monikers.

To be fair, the folks at VW did come forward last year to announce they had borrowed Touareg from a tribe of Saharan nomads who perhaps were not completely conversant with branding, customer identification and possibly trademarking.

Car name shenanigans have gone on for some time, however.

Back in the Cro-Magnon days of automobiles, the makers chose not to name their horseless carriages after a mere Cro-Magnon, though admittedly, Zinjanthropus might come in handy as a designation for a vehicle for those either under 18 or over 65.

Back in the early days, the makers named their cars for famous folks. The Lincoln was named for, yes, Abraham Lincoln, and the Pontiac for the chief of the Ottawa Indians. Cadillac is somewhat more obscure: The name comes from the 17th-century founder of the city of Detroit, one Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac.

Makers also named cars after themselves. Witness Ford, Olds and Chrysler.

But, hey, a visit to Mount Olympus was helpful in the long run, too. The nation has driven cars by the name of Ajax, Pan, Vulcan, Minerva, Diana and Electra. Outer space, too, provided inspiration. For better or worse, there were also the Vega, Nova, Comet, Galaxy, Satellite, Sun, Sunset, Flying Cloud, Meteor, Golden Rocket and Starfire.

There have been no flora-themed cars — but plenty from the fauna realm. While these autos don’t gnaw, lope or peck, the planet has seen the four-wheeled Colt, Wildcat, Crow, Roadrunner, Stingray, Impala, Lark, Pinto, Falcon, Jack Rabbit, Kangaroo, Whippet, Wasp, Honey Bee, Hornet, Beaver, Greta Eagle and that all-time favorite, the Seven Little Buffaloes.

Yes, there was once a car named the Seven Little Buffaloes, which presumably traveled the nation’s highways in a herd until mankind’s cruel and greedy nature wiped them out.

Or something like that.

An article of merit cannot be provided on anything these days without offering a nice poll to go along with it, and this is no exception. According to a survey taken Sept. 2 among readers of Autoblog, a Web log devoted to, well, autos, 88 percent of the respondents said they named their cars.

This should be either very reassuring or very alarming, depending on your vantage point, although I once knew a man who called his dog Buick. But that’s another story.

When all is said and done, not much has changed. The Autoblog survey reveals that the most popular car name among readers was either Betsy or Bessie.

“Some things never change,” noted one visitor to the blog’s message board. “When I was a teenager in the 1940s, Bessie was a common car name. I have no idea how that might have originated, but it seems to pass down through the generations like children’s games and songs.”

Jennifer Harper covers media, modern life, political culture and other timely topics for The Washington Times National Desk. Contact her at [email protected]washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.


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