Naming someone or something special in one’s life is oftentimes a very personal and emotionally-laden process. Naming a baby for example can be a long and contentious undertaking. As a parent, I would normally go for a name that has a particular significance in me and my wife’s lives. Some parents would name their kids based on saints or heroes. Others would derive their kids’ name from their parents or grandparents. And there are those who would combine their names as parents in the hope that the resulting word would make sense.
Naming cars can be quite an involved process as well. Some car owners resort to christening their rides based on the car’s looks. Jama Ramos, an artist and educator, affectionately calls her white 2012 Mazda2 sedan, “Cotton”. “Because it’s colored white and it looks fluffy,” says the freelance creative.
Then there are the hardcore car enthusiasts like Martin Allan Diez. The hardworking IT Business Development Manager owns a Subaru BRZ and calls it Bruzko. Quite straightforward. But he also owned a Mazda2 hatchback which he named “Miotzi.” According to Diez, “Mi is a tribute to my mom’s old white Mitsubishi Mirage Colt named Mitsi-mitsi. Mio is from Demio (the Mazda2’s name in Japan). Z is from Zoom-Zoom. And I also ate mochi the day I saw the car,” relates the 46-year old car enthusiast.
For Diez, creating a name has always been a long process that involves mashing-up of various significant things and moments in his life. “Even my baby’s name was created in the same way. That’s the way I am,” he professes. Granted some car owners do treat their cars as their “babies.” And in the same light, car manufacturers do believe that the cars they produce also deserve names that will best suit them.
So, how does a car get its name, you may ask? Every car model and its corresponding generation starts off with a product code. This is an internal designation used within the company to refer to the ongoing project. For example, D21, D22, D40 and D23 are different generations of the Nissan Navara.
But no one will appreciate a bunch of cryptic letters and numbers as a car model name. The name should stand for something. An idea, a feeling, an experience, even a technical specification at its simplest iteration. That is why car companies go through great lengths to conjure a name for a new car. And like many car owners, every company has its own way of naming cars.
The Toyota Corolla, for example, is supposed to be beautifully styled and eye-catching like the ring of petals that surround the central part of a flower that its namesake suggests. Or the Honda Civic which was derived from the same word in English meaning “relating to a town or city.” The original Civic intended to be driven in cities by citizens. Both examples relate real world entities to the cars in the hope that the name will evoke relatable attributes for its target market.
Car companies also coin model names with the vehicles’ intended purpose or function. The Toyota RAV-4 is an acronym for “Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-wheel drive.” And the Honda C-RV stands for the “Comfortable, Runabout, Vehicle.” And the Toyota Land Cruiser? Yes, it cruises over land.
Premium car brands on the other hand tend to simplify the nomenclature of their models to relevant letter and number combinations. BMW uses numbers to signify the size, class and cost of their cars. The 1-series is its entry level hatchback and coupe model. The 2-series is a slightly bigger sedan. The 3-Series is its compact car contender. The 4-series is a sportier, more luxurious 2-door version of the 3-series. And then the 5 and 7-series are the bigger and more expensive nameplates.
For BMW, the next two digits of the number series represents the engine displacement. And the “i” and “d” after that stands for engines that are either gasoline fuel injected or diesel-fed respectively. The BMW 325i is a 3-series with a 2.5-liter gasoline engine. And the 530d is a 5-series with a 3.0-liter TwinPower Turbo inline-6 Diesel. This same convention has also been adopted for the longest time by Mercedes-Benz.
There are car companies that aspire to move their brand to the same premium space as the European marques now occupy. Take Mazda for example. Hidetoshi Kudo, Executive Officer in Charge of Research and Development Administration, Product Strategy, and the Mazda Technical Research Center, says that the company has assigned its brand name “Mazda” to classic passenger sedans and hatchbacks. Like BMW and Mercedes-Benz, the numbers used to name its cars also represent the car segment the models compete in.
Kudo explains, “The Mazda2 is for the B-car segment. The Mazda3 is for the C-car segment and the Mazda6 is a model that is positioned in the larger CD-car segment.” He adds, “We assigned the “CX” to SUV or Crossover vehicles and the numbers that follow shows the model’s segment or size.” The CX-3 is Mazda’s smallest crossover. This is followed by the CX-4, which is available only in China, and then the CX-5. The CX-8 is the brand’s largest crossover in Japan. While the CX-9 is its flagship crossover in other markets.
Kudo adds, “The “MX-” is assigned to the car which shows the challenge to create and deliver new values. The MX-5 is a revival of open-top, lightweight sports cars. And the MX-30 is Mazda’s first Battery Electric Vehicle product.”
“At this point, you may find our 7th-generation, non-sedan cars use 2-digit numbers,” Kudo points out. “The names of the CX-30 and MX-30 show that they are brothers in the same generation.”
As technical as it may seem, naming vehicles is still a process that involves long drawn discussions between the car company’s Marketing Department and its top management. When asked who in Mazda gets to recommend the names for consideration, Kudo admits, “It is recommended by Marketing and is approved by top seniors. However, sometimes top seniors have better ideas than Marketing.”
Marketing though does play an important role in determining the names of cars. Kia for example, assigns mode names to its cars based on market research. The head office sends out regular surveys to its distributors asking to vote on a list of specific names for a model that is about to be launched globally. The distributors are reminded to be mindful of language and cultural nuances in their respective regions.
That is why the Philippines has the Kia Forte and not the Kia Cerato. While they are the same car models, for obvious reasons, Filipinos would see Kia’s C-segment passenger car in a different light had it been introduced with a name that sounds like it is broken.
But if there is one way to definitely identify your car, it would be through its Vehicle Identification Number or VIN. The VIN is the car’s fingerprint. It is a unique 17-digit alpha-numeric code that is specific to that car. It reveals a lot of information about the vehicle that no brochure or book can. It contains the date and place of manufacture, the type of engine, its unique features and specifications, as well as the production batch.
The VIN can be used to identify cars included in a recall or a warranty claim. It is also in every vehicle’s OR/CR registration data as its Motor Vehicle Chassis Code where it helps identify a specific vehicle that might be involved in theft or an insurance claim.
As you can see, naming cars can be a very thought-provoking process. Much like how I, as a soon-to-be parent will name my child, car companies will also go through great lengths to give their creations the appropriate name that best represents their potential and their individual personalities. Now if I can only find a manufacturer that would name their latest car, Collin Maverick.
Motoring and motorsports are two of Mikko’s greatest passions. Combining more than twenty years of professional automotive photography and videography experience with years of touring car racing competition, and a deep understanding of the car industry, from both the manufacturers’ and consumers’ points of view, have given him a unique and insightful perspective in the motoring beat.