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Names For New Cars: What Will Work And What Won’t

Let’s imagine that we have been contracted to some new Asian car manufacturer who wants to get it right when it comes to car names and not come up with something ridiculous like the perfectly genuine Mitsubishi Mini Active Urban Sandal. What is going to work and what definitely won’t?

Of course, we could always go with the tried-and-true method beloved of European car manufacturers: that of using a combination of numbers and letters that tell you the engine size, the general class or type of car, and maybe the fuel type. This method works perfectly well for BMW, Mercedes and Volvo, with Lexus also getting on board.

look_it_up_TBut that’s so boring, even if it is safe. What’s more, those alphanumeric things don’t stick in the mind and the imagination in the same way, so from an advertiser’s point of view, something that isn’t just a combination of random letters and numbers works better.

The big thing when it comes to picking a name for a car is to find something that suits the image of the car and the sort of target market. The name ought to say something about the car and what it does. It should be memorable – but for the right reasons, not for the wrong ones.

Car type: 4x4s
Image and atmosphere needed: Things to do with the wilderness, the great outdoors, exploration, adventure, rough and toughness… Wild places on the earth, people who discovered them.
Names that have worked: Nissan Safari, Nissan Pathfinder , Landrover Discovery, Ford Ranger, VW Tourareg .
Names that could work: Locator, Granite, Tundra, Pampas, Trek, Prospector, Quest, Colombus, Shackleton, Amundsen, Livingstone, Viking, Magellan.
Names that won’t work: Anything that overplays the dangerous bit or is named after an explorer with a name that can sound odd or wimpy: Risk, Hazard, Stanley, Cook, Eric.

Car type: Eco-friendly small car, preferably a hybrid or electric. Usually a hatchback but not always.
Image and atmosphere needed: Something from the natural world that’s pretty to give the right sort of fun, green image, preferably something that moves quickly.
Names that have worked: Nissan Leaf, VW Beetle, Suzuki Swift, Nissan Bluebird, Datsun Sunny
Names that could work: Dolphin, Sparrow, Marten, Aspen, Maple, Arroyo, Spark.
Names that won’t work: Swallow, Fish, Frog, Whale, Lizard, Toad, Puddle, Banana, Platypus.

Car type: Fast sports car.
Image and atmosphere needed: Something dangerous and aggressive, or possibly high temperature.
Names that have worked: Jaguar, Alfa Romeo Spider, FPV F6 Tornado, Porsche Cayenne, Hyundai Tiburon.
Names that could work: Mako, Barracuda, Mamba, Redback, Brumby, Piranha, Tabasco, Fever.
Names that won’t work: T-Rex, Brontosaurus, Hammerhead, Rhino, Explode, Muscle, Poison. Anything that’s just too try-hard.

Car type: Luxury executive saloon.
Image and atmosphere needed: Something classy and sophisticated with an overtone of prestige, wealth and opulence. Some European marques tend to use classy women’s names.
Names that have worked: Holden Statesman, Holden Commodore, HSV Senator, Renault Megane,  Subaru Legacy.
Names that could work: Platinum, Kaiser, Marquis, Baron, Tiara, Imperator, Viscount, Heritage, Catriona, Sabine.
Names that won’t work: Anything that’s just too in-your-face ostentatious. Precious, Autocrat, Aristocrat, Dictator, General, Pope, Archbishop, Pontiff, Caesar, Prince, Rex, Jenny, Maria.

Anything involving adjectives can get on shaky ground, especially if the adjective is the sort of thing people naturally call a car if they’re giving it a rave review. So Wonderful, Awesome, Brilliant, Amazing, Marvellous, Incredible and Fantastic just aren’t going to work. They’re just asking for trouble and mockery.