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What’s In A Name?

In a few of my posts, I’ve burbled on about the various names that get given to the models of cars – the good, the bad and the potential. However, what about the names of the actual marques themselves? Sometimes, the reasons behind these are more interesting than you think.

Some marques, of course, are simply based on the name of the founder – Ford and Porsche, for example. Others are a bit more creative than that. Persian deities, cartoon characters, samurai insignia and Latin phrases have all done their bit.  Some of my favourite “stories behind the name” are the following:

Mercedes-Benz: The “Benz” bit comes from Karl Benz (the man who also gave his name to benzine and who first patented the automobile) and is rather straightforward but the Mercedes bit is more interesting. Apparently, there was a very early race car driver and board member of the Daimler-Benz company by the name of Emil Jellinek who ordered a line of vehicles from the Daimler-Benz company and gave the cars his daughter’s nickname: Mercedes, rather in the tradition of naming ships after women. The Mercedes Benz cars did very well in the racing circuit and did much to popularize the brand, so the name was kept on for luck, especially after Daimler had given his name to another luxury line.

Toyota: Originally “Toyoda” but the D was changed to a T, as T was a luckier letter in the Japanese system of letters and numerology – it takes eight brush strokes to make and eight is a lucky number.

Mitsubishi:  This literally means “three water chestnuts” or “three diamonds”, which was part of the family crest of the founder, Iwasaki Yatarō, a man of samurai descent.

Jeep:  Popular legend has it that this name came about pretty much the same way as Humvee did – the initials GP (standing for General Purpose) got clipped down for everyday military use to “Jeep”. Other explanations have been given, including a character from early Popeye cartoons named Eugene the Jeep. In these cartoons (which came out well before World War 2 when the Jeep was developed for military purposes), a Jeep is a dog-like creature that is able to go anywhere, including into other dimensions. The vehicle seemed to have similar powers and hence the nickname.

Audi: This is based on the name of the founder, August Horch. Horch had founded one company and had then been kicked out of it. When developing his new car manufacturing company, he was scratching around for a good name for it, as he couldn’t use his own name. His son was studying Latin at the time and suggested that seeing as Horch was the German for “Listen”, why not translate the surname into Latin, which would be “Audi”? Problem solved.

Volvo: Another name taken from Latin, this time meaning “I roll.” It was chosen because the company originally made ball bearings.

Fiat: A nice little double meaning here. It’s the initials of the Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino (Italian Automobile Factory of Turin) but also means “let it be”. “Fiat” was/is also a technical term used to indicate a decree that has been handed out by a higher power that must be carried out – that higher power being God, the Pope or the Government. “Fiat” was also supposed to be used by magicians to complete spells.

Mazda: This name was chosen because it sort of sounded like the name of the founder, Jujiro Matsuda and it was also the name of an ancient Persian god worshipped by the Zoroastrians (full name: Ahura Mazda). The symbol of Ahura-Mazda is the faravahar, which is a combination of the sun and eagle’s wings. Take a careful look at the logo of Mazda car, and you’ll see the circle and the wings still there. Other cars with divine names included the Jowett Jupiter, the Citroën Dyane (after Diana, the moon goddess) and the small Greek SUV marque Hercules.


Subaru: Fuji Heavy Industries wanted a name that reflected the companies that merged to form the one big company that had a touch of poetry to it. So they picked the Japanese name for the constellation of the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters – a linked group of bright stars. You’ll see the constellation on the Subaru logo – except it’s the way up that Japan in the Northern Hemisphere sees it, rather than the way you can see it on a nice clear summer night with a pair of good binoculars down here.


  1. Steve White says:

    Hi Megan
    I think you should do a bit more research into AUDI. It actually originated as a comglomerate of German car companies and stands for Auto Union Deutsche Industrie.
    Regards Steve

    May 22nd, 2013 at 12:09 pm

  2. Gary says:

    My undersatnding was that AUDI were the initials for a number of merged Automobile makers. They took the acronym from Auto Union Deutcher Industries.

    May 22nd, 2013 at 12:15 pm

  3. Laurie says:

    Very interesting article Megan.
    Being a romantic I prefer your background rather than the simple (Germanic) acronym proffered.
    Good work.

    May 22nd, 2013 at 12:52 pm

  4. David says:

    I thought FIAT stood for Fix It Again Tony

    May 22nd, 2013 at 1:06 pm

  5. vincent says:

    Horch was forced to leave the company he had founded in 1909. He then founded Audi in 1910 and the first cars bearing the new company name appeared in that year. Horch is “hark” in English (as in the Christmas carol Hark the Herald Angels Sing). Audi is also the Latin for “to hear”. Horch had attempted to use the original name of Horch for his new company, but was prevented from doing so by the orginal company. So he opted for Audi.

    Auto Union was not set up until 1932 to rival the racing supremacy of Mercedes Benz. The four circles represent the four companies that merged: ie AUDI, DKW, Horch and Wanderer. Audi is not an acronym of the four merged companies.

    So, no, Audi existed for 22 years before Auto Union and is indeed “Hark” in Latin.

    Incidentally, Daimler Benz supplied two racing cars to Emil Jellinek which he named after his daughters: Mercedes and Maja (pronounced “Maya”). Although virtually identical, the car Maja did not enjoy the same racing success as Mercedes. So the company was re-named after Mercedes. Otherwise the company may well be known as Maja Benz today.

    May 22nd, 2013 at 1:10 pm

  6. Anton Blahak says:

    When I was a young boy in Austria the car makes HORCH and WANDERER where still
    around that was 1946-50 they where pre war manufactures.By the way Horch means
    listen and the latin word Audire means hearing,so I don’t think Horch translates into
    AUDI. There was an other pre war make called DKW ,Iknew that car I owned one
    it was later DKW 3=6 and had a 3 cylinder 2 stroke engine it was renamed AUTO UNION
    Out of this AUDI was born after the company changed hands a few times.So I know a bit
    of history of Audi,but Iam not quite shure of yhe name,I would say Steve and Gary are

    May 24th, 2013 at 9:32 pm