The name game

By Keith N. Leonard, Esquire

What’s in a name? It may depend upon who or what you are naming. One of the chapters in the bestselling book “Freakonomics” is entitled “Perfect Parenting, Part II; Or: Would a Roshanda by any Other Name Smell as Sweet?” The theme of that chapter is whether or not the name you give to your child will make a difference in the kind of person the child turns out to be in life.

One of the examples offered is a parent who named two of his sons Winner and Loser. The two sons grew up to be exactly the opposite of their given names, with Loser being a success in life and Winner being a man with a long criminal record. Anyone who follows popular culture is familiar with the non-traditional names being given to children of celebrities and the names of some athletes. In those worlds you may meet someone named Apple, Jamar, Colt, DeSean, Camera, Sailor Lee, or Kalel. Thankfully, if you are not happy with your birth name, you can legally change it after you become an adult.

Not surprisingly, in the automotive world, you are also likely to be introduced to a name that you may find is good, bad, or downright ugly (or worse). Shortly after World War II ended, there were some fifty-five nameplates for cars. By January of 2007, the number of automobile nameplates had risen to almost three hundred.

Of the first four cars that I owned, one was an unbranded range animal (Maverick, though Tom Cruise in Top Gun and Sarah Palin in politics have given that word a different meaning), another has a royal meaning (Regal), and the third one was, according to its manufacturer, “a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs” (The Camaro, a car originally designed to compete with the Ford Mustang). The fourth car was a B-210.

While certain motor vehicle manufacturers (e.g., BMW and Mercedes Benz, among others) have given numbers or letters to their automobiles (3-series, CLS, S Class, etc.), many manufacturers still give names to their cars. I am sure marketers work hard to come up with names that will attract car buyers. In doing so, we end up with vehicles that connote the wild, wild west such as the Ford Bronco, the Jeep Wrangler, Dodge Dakota, and GMC Yukon (the Maverick of an earlier era also fits that bill).

Are you more interested in something sounding aristocratic? You can try out a Buick Regal, a Lincoln Continental, the Dodge St. Regis, or the Buick Park Avenue. Do you prefer a European flair to the name? If so, then drive a Lincoln Versailles, Pontiac Parisienne, Buick LeSabre, or Chrysler LeBaron. Of course, if you fancy yourself a good citizen type, you can go for a Honda Civic, Acura Integra or Plymouth Reliant. Are you an animal lover at heart? In that case, sign up to buy a Ford Mustang, Mercury Cougar, Corvette Stingray, Plymouth Barracuda, Ford Thunderbird, or Pontiac Firebird. Do you want to go vroom, vroom on the open road? If so, then you should buy the Triumph Spitfire or the Pontiac Grand Prix.

Though the foregoing cars (and quite a few others) were given names intended to conjure up a certain image with the potential buyer, there are some automotive names that had no meaning prior to their being assigned to a particular car or car manufacturer. Thus, we end up with vehicle names like Impreza, Corolla, Maxima, Altima, and Acura. However, manufacturers can end up with unforeseen problems after naming a particular vehicle.
General Motors produces the Buick LaCrosse. When you first hear that name, you may think the name has an aristocratic, French sound to it or you may think sporty (after all, lacrosse is a popular sport in many regions.). Unfortunately, when General Motors was about to offer the vehicle for sale in Canada, someone learned that the name of the car translated into a slang phrase among French-Canadian teens for a certain sexual technique. General Motors changed the car’s name to Buick Allure for models sold in Canada.

Volkswagen management probably thought it was safe when it introduced the Touareg, its SUV model. Well, it turns out that the Tuareg (but also Twareg and Touareg) are a nomadic people who are the principal inhabitants of the Saharan interior of North Africa. Unfortunately, that same group of people traded in slaves for a number of years into the 20th century. Fortunately, not too many people are likely familiar with those peoples and even less knowledgeable about their slave-owning past habits.

And naming a car after a family member may not be the wisest decision ever made either. Henry Ford’s son’s name was Edsel Ford, who actually served as the president of Ford Motor Company for some twenty-four years. In 1957 Ford branded one new model the Edsel. It lasted only three model years and its name is still synonymous with failure.
Having a particular name attached to a car does not ensure its success or its stature among automobiles throughout history. Among the cars considered in 2007 by Automobile magazine to be among the twenty-five greatest cars of all-time were the Austin Mini, the Caterham Seven, the Tucker Torpedo, and the Blower Bentley. I am not sure if any of those names would ensure commercial success for a car in today’s car sales market. And the Pontiac Parisienne has been picked by some commentators as an example of one of the worst names chosen for a car; along with the Studebaker Dictator, the Ford Probe, and the Mazda Scrum Wagon.

I am not sure if my final mention rates a selection as a bad name for an automobile or simply a silly one – the Volugrafo Bimbo. Maybe the manufacturer just had a good sense of humor.

Remember that laws are constantly changing and are often not uniform throughout the United States. Do not place unqualified reliance on the information in this article. Always contact legal counsel for detailed advice.

If you have a particular issue, law or problem you would like to see addressed in a future column, please contact me at, or Leonard, Sciolla, Hutchison, Leonard & Tinari, LLP, 215-567-1530.

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