What’s in a car name? How these popular models got their monikers

by Nathan Michael - Posted 5 months ago

What’s in a car name? How these popular models got their monikers

Jeep, Camry, BMW i5: Instantly recognizable car names we all know. But how did they get those names?

One fun example is the revolutionary four-wheel-drive Jeep. A bonafide World War II hero for Allied troops, the official name was actually Willys MB. Among the ranks, it was commonly known as a General Purpose vehicle, or GP. As people used the term, GP was shortened from two syllables to one, creating a sound like “jeep.” The name “Jeep” become official when it was trademarked in 1950.

Sometimes car companies clash over names. In 2011, Ferrari launched a Formula One car and called it the F150 in honor of the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy. Perhaps not surprisingly, Ford had a problem with this. They threatened Ferrari with a lawsuit, saying the name was too close to their best-selling F-150 truck line. Ferrari backed down, renaming their car the 150°, though it’s hard to fathom someone mixing up a race car and a pickup.

Toyota often uses combinations of Japanese and English when coming up with their car names. “Camry” is actually a variation of the Japanese word for crown, and “Celica” is a mashup of Japanese and English terms for “sleek.” And “Corolla”? The petals of a flower in English, and phonetic variation of “crown” in Japanese.

Why does almost every BMW name contain an “i”? A bit like the Apple “i,” it’s evolved over time. It started out meaning “international” and by the late 1970s was used to designate cars with fuel-injected engines. Now it has simply become tradition, but the “i” signifies nothing in particular.

So now you know. It’s a little history with a good dose of creativity.