How do things get their names? Part 1

Delores E. Topliff

For this post, I’ll focus on the origination of some American auto brands. Their names are often linked to their inventor or developer. Henry Ford may be the best-known example. However, the Edsel, named for his only son, was intended to be a successful separate brand but appeared during a recession and is now remembered as the term for a project or idea that failed.

Scottish-born Detroit-based inventor, David Buick, founded his Buick Motor Car Co. in 1903. His cars benefitted from the overhead valve engine he invented, a major improvement still with us.

Cadillacs are named after Antoine Laumet de la Mothe Cadillac, the French nobleman who founded Detroit in 1703.

Industrialist William Durant developed General Motors and named the Chevrolet for a popular, fearless Swiss race driver involved with his organization for a time. Besides, he liked the ring of the name.

Pontiacs were produced by the Pontiac Buggy Co., originally a horseless carriage manufacturer, and named for a renowned Great Lakes area Ottawa Indian war chief.

Lincoln Motors was founded in 1917 by Henry Leland. An engineer, Leland named his car and company after Abraham Lincoln, the first presidential candidate for whom he ever voted (in 1864).

There are enough car makes and models for a l-o-n-g list, so before this puts you to sleep, take a look in your garage? Did the name of a make or model name influence your purchase? (I hope not. Mine is a Nissan Rogue).

One Freshman English textbook contains a great essay teaching classification through matching cars to people’s stations in life. If they could afford them, young men drove fast, racy sport cars. Young marrieds moved up to coupes or sedans, and families expanded into station wagons or vans. My mid-size SUV matches my happy stage of life and is great for projects and grandkids

If you invented and sold a new car or model, how would you choose a a name? Would you emphasize the maker? Or its traits? Names that might be true but should not be used include, Guzzler, Beast, Auto Loan, Budget Breaker, Mortgaged to the Hilt, Mechanic’s Nightmare. Attractive names that exist or have existed include, Runabout, Wind, Zephyr, Voyageur, Nomad, Mountaineer, and many more.

Now, please tell us about the best car you’ve ever owned, or name the future car of your dreams. Happy driving, and have fun!

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