Car names are problematic. A name could be silly, thus conferring silliness on its subject (Isuzu VehiCross).
It could get you sued (the Chevy Beretta/Beretta guns imbroglio) or mean something snicker-worthy to another culture (the Buick LaCrosse in Quebec). There are a lot of ways you can screw up a car name. Which is probably why so many companies have quit names altogether.
Today, you could have a comparison test among an A6, an MKS, a TL, and a CTS, and people might complain that you left out the 535i, the E350, the GS350, and the M35. Everyone wants to be BMW and Mercedes-Benz – longtime alphanumeric embracers – so the names keep falling. Remember the Lincoln Zephyr? Me neither. But at least it had a name. Now all new Lincolns are labeled with three-letter monikers beginning with MK. This is perplexing, since Ford consistently comes up with some of the best names in the business. Earlier this year, a hotel clerk asked the model of my vehicle, and I replied, “It’s a Ford . . . Raptor.” He cowered in the corner and told me to take all the free toothbrushes I needed as long as I promised not to cause trouble.
So Ford has the Flex – another great name – while Lincoln gets the anonymously badged MKT. The MKT is one of the few crossovers that dares to offer ambitious style inside and out. You can get it with a 355-hp, twin-turbo V-6 and an ear-melting THX sound system. The MKT has a strong personality that deserves a real name, and Ford has a perfect one sitting in its warehouse. The MKT is mature yet aggressive, upmarket yet ready to party. From now on, I’ll call it the Lincoln Cougar.
Companies are overthinking the alphanumeric name game. For instance, Lamborghini claims that all its names have to do with bullfighting, but I suspect they’re just made up. “This is our new car, the Insana. It is named after a bull that gored an entire village in 1852 and is now much revered.” Really, Gallardo and Murciélago could be sea monkeys that a seven-year-old brought to show-and-tell in Bologna, and nobody would care because the badges are glued to wicked Lambos.
Which brings me to another point: the car makes the name, not the other way around. If the McLaren F1 had been the McLaren Kakapoopymobile, that word would now be synonymous with excellence.
So, let’s dole out names to cars in need. First, we’ll use the Tiguan method. (Tiguan, if you didn’t know, is a combination of tiger and iguana.) Now, you can’t just jam any two animals together, because nobody would buy a Porcuskunk. But what about a car with the ferocity of the badger, combined with the tough shell and delicious interior of the lobster? You’d have a Badgster, the name I’d bestow upon the Acura ZDX.
Historic names can also work, as long as they carry some resonance (sorry, Maybach). Thus I rechristen the Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG as the Mercedes-Benz Bismarck.
Places are another naming option; the Ferrari California is a prominent new example. However, the fact that Ferrari named a car after a state that’s bankrupt and on fire is an indication that we’re running out of candidates. That doesn’t mean we have to give up. We just need to dig deeper and use places that are slightly less famous – places like Austin, Texas. Infiniti could use that for the M45. They’d just have to Tiguan the name a little bit and call it the Austex. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than what the car was called in Japan until 2004: Cedric. You might get some strange looks if you tell your neighbors it’s time to service your Cedric.
The new car most in need of a proper name is the Lexus LFA.
A vehicle with a 552-hp V-10 shouldn’t have a name that sounds like a text-message abbreviation. It should have a name that reflects the culture that created it. So I’m calling it the Rakuda. Sounds exotic and aggressive, like something that would jump out of the ocean and eat you. Does it matter that rakuda means camel in Japanese? Not when there’s such an awesome-sounding word for camels, it doesn’t.
Someday, I’ll tell my grandkids about the days when cars had names. They won’t believe me, because by then everything will be alphanumeric. But I’ll say, “It’s true. Once, cars were known by actual words. But people worried that those words would be made fun of, or a focus group wouldn’t like them, so the names went away. It’s sad, but that’s the way it is. Now turn off the lights, SL600. Sleep tight, 335i.”
Writer: Ezra Dyer
Illustrator: Tim Marrs