What’s In A Car’s Name? Quite A Lot Actually.

We take a deep dive into the meanings and origins of the car names we know so well...but not really - Part 1

Part 1: Household Names

You can’t beat an actual name for a car rather than the alphanumeric soup some automakers (looking at you BMW) create. A name is evocative and much easier to remember than a jumble of numbers and letters. Some names of cars have been with us for decades, which means we are more and more likely to take them for granted. Many are obvious, whether it’s Viper or Charger, Outback, Defender, Titan, Journey, etc. Then there’s a lot of place names like Silverado, Tucson, Malibu, Pacifica, etc. However, many aren’t so obvious. For example, you’ve likely seen thousands of Corollas on the road over the past couple of years, but in our heads, the name means “cheap reliable car” rather than “the ring of petals around the central part of a flower.” That got us wondering about other car names we take for granted.

#1 – Toyota Camry

Toyota’s Camry name originally appeared as the Celica Camry in 1979 but became an independent model in 1982. Since then, the Camry has become ubiquitous on the road around the world and, in the US, has been its best-selling passenger car since 1997. Few of the millions of Camry owners know that the name derives from the Japanese word “kanmuri,” which translates as “crown.” Toyota has a history of using Crown and crown-related names for its main models. Our favorite is the Atara trim level for the Camry in Australia and also means “crown,” but in Hebrew.

#2 – Chevrolet Camaro

When the Camaro was launched, GM managers told reporters that a Camaro was “a small animal that eats Mustangs.” Later, it was reported that the name was pulled from Heath’s French and English Dictionary as a term that translated to “friend” or “comrade.” The closest word is camarade, which became comrade at the end of the 16th century in both French and English. Our assumption at this point is that GM was full of nonsense and came up with a word product planners thought sounded cool, which is no mean feat in itself.

#3 – Volkswagen Golf

Curiously, neither the Volkswagen Golf nor the Polo is named after the sports. Despite the spelling and GTI model’s golf ball shift knobs, like many Volkswagen cars, the hatchback is named after geographic winds. The Golf is named for the Gulf Stream, while Jetta is German for “jet stream,” Passat means “trade wind,” Polo references Polar winds and the Scirocco is named after Sirocco, a Mediterranean wind. The association with the game of golf comes purely from Gunhild Liljequist, a member of Volkswagen’s design team in charge of fabrics and colors. She is also responsible for the Golf GTI’s iconic tartan fabric and says that”I just expressed my sporting and golf associations out loud: ‘how about a golf ball as the gear knob?'”

#4 – Subaru Impreza

The word Impreza is, supposedly, a coined word – as in minted by Subaru. According to lore, it’s derived from the Italian word impresa, meaning a motto or a badge, or a maxim or a crest, depending on your dictionary. However, Impreza is a word in Polish and, on its own, means ‘party.’ The sport-driven WRX stands for World Rally eXperimental, although the X could stand-in for the word cross. The STI acronym is more interesting, as it’s a trim level, but it stands for Subaru Tecnica International (STI), the Subaru Corporation division that specializes in motorsport.

#5 – Toyota Supra

The Supra name is a simple one and is from the Latin prefix meaning “above,” “to surpass,” or “go beyond.” Similarly, the related Celica of old comes directly from Spanish and means “celestial.” Also related to the Toyota Supra was the third generation, and more extravagant, Toyota Soarer, which featured a winged lion emblem that tells us the name is self-explanatory.