What’s in a Name: “A Small Vicious Animal That Eats Mustangs”

8th May 2017 BY
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What kind of an animal is a Camaro? Why is a Pajero sold as a Montero in Spain? #Carlease looks at interesting stories behind car names

A street with no name indeed

When the Camaro was launched in 1966, the buzz was more around the name than the fact that it was Chevrolet’s answer to the Ford Mustang, which was released in 1964 and is named after a small, wild American horse. Chevrolet fed a whisper-campaign by first insinuating that it would be called the Panther, then debunking that by whispering in journalists’ ears that the actual name would mean “lithe” and “graceful” and that “it suggests the comradeship of good friends.”

When the name Camaro (the word does not really mean anything) was finally revealed, and proved to be only distantly – if at all – related to Chevy’s claims, Chevrolet president Pete Estes said at a press conference that the Camaro is “a small vicious animal that eats Mustangs”.

This isn’t true, of course, but Pete Estes’ statement went down in car-naming history! Still, it’s a lot better than what car makers often do: borrow words and meanings from exotic or ancient languages, or simply wimp out and use combinations of letter and numbers to name their models.

But can it race the wind?

(Actual Tiguana May Differ)

(Actual Tiguana May Differ)

Names of automobile models have always been a source of wonder (and sometimes outright laughter). Why, for instance, would Volkswagen name its small SUV the Tiguan, and then tell the world with a straight face that the moniker is derived by combining the word Tiger and Iguana? What exactly do the two fauna have in common?

Volkswagen tends to like names that mean some kind of wind. Jetta, for instance is German for “jet Stream” while Passat means “Trade Wind” in the same language. The iconic Golf evokes visions of plus-fours-clad people swinging clubs over 18 holes, but it actually means “gulf” in German and is a reference to the Gulf Stream. The letters GTI and GLI after the name simply mean grand touring injection and grand luxury injection.

VW’s Eos breaks the mold to be named after the Greek goddess of the dawn, fitting for a convertible. The Touareg 4×4 is named after the hardy Tuareg tribes of North Africa. But if you’re wondering what VW’s inspiration was in naming the CC, it just stands for “Comfort Coupe”!

Countach! Lamborghini is a lot of bull

This is really imagination

This is really imagination

Lamborghini has given the world some powerful model names such as Countach, Aventador, Murcielago and Veneno. Their meanings are sometimes playful, sometimes just unbelievable! The Countach (pronounced coon-tashe) is probably the only automobile in the world with a name taken from the Piedmontese language. An apocryphal story goes that Italian automobile designer Giuseppe ‘Nuccio’ Bertone saw a car model on his desk and exclaimed “Countach!”. The word means “Wow!” or “Look at that!” or even “Holy s***!” in Piedmontese, and the name stuck.

The Veneno is badged after the meaning of word, which is “venom”. Inspired by the similarly named Dodge? Or a precursor?

True to its badge, the Bull, Lamborghini has named most of its models after famous fighting bulls or breeds. These include Diablo (“Devil”), Miura (a breed of fighting bulls named after the family that bred them), Urraco (“Magpie”) and Murcielago (“Bat”). Ernest Hemingway wrote about Don Eduardo Miura’s fighting bulls in his book “Death In The Afternoon”.

Aventador is the name of the bull that earned the Trofeo de la Peña La Madroñera for its courage in Spain’s Saragossa Arena in 1993. He was eventually killed, but he is still considered one of the greatest fighting bulls ever.

The Reventon (the word literally means “explosion” or “ignition”) is named after the bull from the stables of famous breeder Don Heriberto Rodriguez, which in 1943 killed the Mexican bullfighter Felix Guzman.

Renault gets physical

Oh that's what it is!

Oh that’s what it is!

One of the most intriguing set of car names comes out of the Renault stable. The Megane comes from the Greek word that means “pearl”. It is also used in urban slang to describe a beautiful woman.

The Captur has nothing to do with capturing anything – that would be hard to do anyway with such a small car. According to Renault, the word contains the French word “cap”, which means a course you set or a stage you cross.

Here’s what Sophie Cranshoff-Meli, Renault’s names coordinator for the Captur project, has to say: “I will let you in on a little secret: initially we wanted to write “Kaptur” with a “k”. We thought of using the letter “k” to identify Renault’s crossover family. But we had to abandon the idea because the name didn’t work in Poland with a “k”. In Polish, “Kaptur” means “hood”. Hardly magical!”

On the subject of the “k”, Renault seems to have done very little homework before naming the Koleos. If it is the Greek word “κολεός” the company is referring to, it means scabbard, sheath or, in slang, the female body part that resembles one. This has generated a few laughs and a fair dose of ribaldry in southern Europe!

A similar naming gaffe comes from Mitsubishi. One of the world’s favorite 4×4 vehicles, the Pajero could not be marketed under that name in Spain, where Mitsubishi had to change the tag to Montero. Why? Because the word “pajero” in Spanish slang means someone who, umm, finding himself sans a “koleos” likes to pleasure himself with his own hands, constantly. Get the drift?

Introducing the Audi Jeff!

Introducing the Audi Jeff!

Further Reading:

Bulls that inspired the Lamborghini names

The Miura legacy

The wind, sun and assorted fauna of Volkswagen

Ford vs. Chevy: Battle of the vicious animals

10 most unfortunate car names

25 most ridiculous car names of all time


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