2 September 2014

What’s in a name?

We all have owned cars that evoke memories. One mention of their names can flood our minds with images of happier times. But more often than you realize, car and truck names have meanings that their manufacturers never intended.

Cracking open the dictionary reveals what your car or truck’s name really means and their unintended consequences. Here is a sampling of past and present car names, their definition and the automaker that uses them.

Avalon: Celtic legend, the isle of the dead where King Arthur and other knights are taken after death. (Toyota)
Belvedere: A summer house or open-sided gallery positioned to command a fine view. (Plymouth)
Caprice: A sudden and unaccountable change in mood or behavior. (Chevrolet)
Cayman: or caiman, a Central and South American crocodile. (Porsche)
Charger: A large, flat platter. (Dodge)
Century: A period of 100 years. (Buick)
Citation: A quotation from or reference to a book or author. (Edsel, Chevrolet)
Civic: Relating to a city or town. (Honda)
Corsair: A privateer, especially one operating along the southern shore of the Mediterranean. (Kaiser-Frazer, Edsel)
Cooper: A person who makes or repairs casks or barrels. (Mini)
Corolla: The petals, or inner leaves, of a flower. (Toyota)
Coronet: A small, or simple, crown, especially worn by lesser royalty or nobles. (Dodge)
Cutlass: A short sword with a slightly curved bade. (Oldsmobile)
Electra: Greek mythological figure who persuaded her brother to kill their mother in revenge for the murder of their father. (Buick)
Equinox: the time or date at which the sun crosses the celestial equator and when day and night are of equal length. (Chevrolet)
Escalade: The scaling of fortified walls using ladders as a form of military attack. (Cadillac)
Eclipse: A sudden loss of power, prominence or significance. (Mitsubishi)
Fit: A seizure in which the victim loses consciousness. (Honda)
Golf: An outdoor game played on a large course with a small, hard ball and a set of clubs. (Volkswagen)
Gremlin: A mischievous sprite regarded as responsible for unexplained mechanical or electrical failures. (AMC)
Lancer: A soldier of a cavalry regiment armed with lances. (Dodge, Mitsubishi)
Lucerne: Another term for alfalfa. (Buick)
Magnum: A wine bottle twice the normal size, usually 1.5 liters. (Dodge)
Marathon: A long-distance running race, strictly one of 26 miles 385 yards. (Checker)
Marquis: A nobleman ranking above a count and below a duke. (Mercury)
Matrix: Womb, uterus. (Toyota)
Omni: In all ways or places. (Dodge)
Pacer: A competitor who sets the pace at the beginning of a race or competition. (AMC, Edsel)
Phantom: A figment of the imagination. (Rolls-Royce)
Sable: Another term for black. (Mercury)
Savoy: A cabbage of a hardy variety with densely wrinkled leaves. (Plymouth)
Touareg: A nomadic African tribe. (Volkswagen)
Tundra: A vast, flat, treeless Arctic region of Europe, Asia, and North America in which the subsoil is permanently frozen. (Toyota)
Vagabond: A vagrant. (Kaiser)
Vantage: A place or position affording a good view. (Aston Martin)
Venza: A close sound-alike to the Japanese word Benza, which means toilet seat. (Toyota)
Viper: a spiteful or treacherous person. (Dodge, SRT)
Wayfarer: A person who travels on foot. (Dodge)
Wrangler: A person who wrangles, or argues, especially in a contentious way. (Jeep)
Zephyr: A soft, gentle breeze. (Lincoln, Mercury)

31 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Gerald Beeler Indy September 3, 2014 at 15:55
    My Dad had in Canada an Acadian Invader( Canadian Pontiac based on the Chevy two. An American car company selling a car in Canada called Invader . Strange
  • 2
    William Cervini CA September 3, 2014 at 16:13
    Better check on the "Golf". Your definition is wrong.
  • 3
    Keith Ohio September 3, 2014 at 16:27
    Interesting! A Charger is also a knight's horse, probably more what Dodge had in mind. Pretty sure Buick knew about Century! Best fail on the list - Gremlin.
  • 4
    Al Indianapolis September 3, 2014 at 16:47
    A charger (Dodge) is also a warhorse, a device for replenishing a battery, or, in my case, a wife.
  • 5
    Dan Slosek Cape Coral, FL September 3, 2014 at 17:00
    Remember that the Buick "Century" was so-named with the claim that she could EASILY cruise at 100 miles per hour (a "century" (100) of speed).....
  • 6
    Dan Slosek Cape Coral, FL September 3, 2014 at 17:03
    A "Charger" (Dodge) was also reference to a large steed (a horse) utilized in Midaeval combat....
  • 7
    Bruce Charlotte, MI September 3, 2014 at 17:28
    Charger also means a spirited steed, indeed.
  • 8
    Eric Marr United States September 3, 2014 at 18:09
    A Charger is also "A horse trained for battle; a Cavalry horse" I think that is the definition that Dodge was leaning toward when they named their car, rather than a shallow dish or platter.
  • 9
    Eric Marr United States September 3, 2014 at 18:12
    Also, the definition of Savoy is "A historical region and former duchy of southeast France, western Switzerland, and northwest Italy." Again, I have a feeling that this was probably what Plymouth was trying to evoke with their Savoy model, not a chunk of cabbage.
  • 10
    John Fenrich Owasso, OK September 3, 2014 at 18:15
    Hey, how about the Fairlady...Datsun's first entry into the sportscar field in the U.S.?
  • 11
    Hal Nelson Chandler, AZ September 3, 2014 at 18:43
    Some of these could have been researched a little more. I'm sure that Charger was a reference to a knight's war horse, Viper was to remind one of the Cobra , and Savoy was to convey the elegance of the European region of that name. The Cooper definition is correct, but does not belong here as it was the company owner's name. But a fun article.
  • 12
    Eric Lapeer, MI September 3, 2014 at 18:49
    I don't agree with the choice of definition for Viper. Given the well-known badge attached to this vehicle since it inception, I think that the “Venomous snake with large hinged fangs...” dictionary entry is much more appropriate.
  • 13
    jim road September 3, 2014 at 19:01
    you don;t know that a Charger is referring to a war horse used by the cavalry, a Wrangler is another reference for a cowboy, Lucerne is a city in Switzerland, and Sable is an expensive fur?
  • 14
    Mike Boyle coos bay, or September 3, 2014 at 19:55
    Amusing. But the Plymouth Belvedere and Savoy were clearly named after the hotels (as was the Plymouth Plaza) and not the alternate words you listed.
  • 15
    jim West MI September 3, 2014 at 20:04
    I think Plymouth's inspiration for Belvedere was the tony suburb North of San Francisco. Fun article - thanks.
  • 16
    Jim R. Southfield, MI September 3, 2014 at 21:01
    How about the meaning of Yaris (Toyota)?
  • 17
    Chris in WNC Leicester NC September 3, 2014 at 21:14
    "Charger" is also a medieval war-horse. Dodge probably named the car after the horse, not a dinner platter.......
  • 18
    Dan Mechanicsville, Va September 3, 2014 at 21:57
    What about nova and lesabre? Spelling may be off
  • 19
    Ted Central Illinois September 4, 2014 at 14:51
    Pretty incomplete list. Several listed have double meanings, fit, viper, wrangler to name a few. Off the top of my head also thought of Pinto, Mustang, Vega, Nova, Chevelle , Impala, Corvette, Corsica, Belair, Biscayne, Malibu, Cordoba, Etc.
  • 20
    Brian St. Louis September 4, 2014 at 15:03
    Well, about half of these have other definitions that might be what the manufacturers "really" intended, but that probably isn't the point here....
  • 21
    Len Zapala Troy, NY September 4, 2014 at 09:51
    Savoy is also a name of a famous upper class English hotel. Charger is also what a knight rode into battle on.
  • 22
    Tom michigan upper peninsula September 4, 2014 at 10:54
    well i have a DEMON and a WARLOCK thought they might have been on the list
  • 23
    Jim Lawrence Canada September 4, 2014 at 11:40
    i like odd balls had a lot camaro 's & trans am but my gremlin x with a 355 chev & the flamed bobcat 2 door wagon sure turn a lot of heads !
  • 24
    Alfisto Steve USA Right Coast September 5, 2014 at 07:12
    Falcon -a type of hawk that can fly very fast and is sometimes trained to hunt. I have had three 64-65 Ford Falcon Square Bodies all V8 models and pretty darn fast and did I mention good lines. My first new car was a 289 V8 65 Falcon Futura 2-dr hardtop w/4-speed. I owned the car twice and would have bought it back a third time if I could have found it again. I had a 302 truck engine in it when I sold it second time. I also owned a 65 Falcon 289 V8 wagon and a 64 Falcon Ranchero with 302 engine.
  • 25
    Dan Ky September 5, 2014 at 10:28
    NOVA Spanish for NO GO
  • 26
    John North Carolina September 5, 2014 at 11:42
    Gotta appreciate the Nissan VERSA, to which a few witty owners have added the prefix VICE
  • 27
    Ricardo South Carolina September 6, 2014 at 08:35
    Come on, now; the Fit (Honda) could mean someone who is physically fit (for combat, service, duty).
  • 28
    Rick S E Iowa September 6, 2014 at 09:18
    NOVA also leads to different division names for "same" car at G.M. Nova, Omega,Ventura and Apollo !
  • 29
    glenn ohio September 6, 2014 at 09:45
    And Plymouths were built at the Belvidere, Ill plant with parts from it's "satellite" stamping plant!
  • 30
    Richard AB Canada September 7, 2014 at 01:35
    For Yaris just put UP in front of it
  • 31
    Scott Allred Chico, CA September 10, 2014 at 14:48
    "Magnum" might be applied to a bottle of wine, but it means "Great" or "Large." I also agree with previous comments about the definitions you have given; many are like Magnum - not quite right.

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