Special Report

How 30 Iconic Car Models Got Their Names

In 1955, the celebrated modernist poet Marianne Moore was approached by the Ford Motor Company for help in coming up with a name for a new car line the company was developing. Her suggestions included Intelligent Bullet, Ford Fabergé, Anticipator, Astranaut, Pastelogram, Mongoose Civique, and Utopian Turtletop.

Perhaps not surprisingly, none of her proposals found favor with Ford, and the company ended up calling the new car the Edsel, after founder Henry Ford’s son Edsel B. Ford — with individual models bearing such lackluster names as Corsair, Pacer, and Ranger. The Edsel lasted only three years and was one of the biggest flops in American business history. (Here are some of today’s most and least dependable car brands.)

Car companies themselves are sometimes named for their founders (not just Henry Ford, but Louis Chevrolet, Enzo Ferrari, and Soichiro Honda, among others). Other times, they are given monikers that are meant to be evocative (Hyundai borrows its name from a Korean word meaning “modernity;” Volkswagen translates to “peoples’ car”), and on occasion, automakers bear names that are basically generic (General Motors; BMW — standing for Bayerische Motoren Werke, or Bavarian Motor Works).

When it comes to individual models produced by these companies, however, imagination sometimes runs riot. Cars get named for animals, geographical locations, ships and airplanes, groups of people, even fighting bulls.

Of course, some manufacturers play it safe and just use boring old letters and/or numbers. If you drive a Volvo, it might be a PV51, an XC90, or a C202. That new Mercedes of yours could be a GLC or an SL — unless you plunked down $175,000 or so for a Maybach. (In contrast, check these amazing cars from bygone times.)

24/7 Wall St. made a list of some of the most iconic car models that have actual names, then researched the origins of those names through a variety of sources, including Road and Track, Can and Driver, Motor Trend, Motor Authority, Autoweek, Between the Axles, GM Authority, Car Name Emblem, The News Wheel, and Cherokee Forum, as well as numerous car company and dealership websites. 

Note that the years the cars were introduced in the U.S. refer to the year of sale, not the model year — i.e. car companies typically introduce each year’s model in the previous year.

Click here to see how 30 iconic car models got their names