Bad Car-Ma

By Scott Anthony

So it’s raining and sleeting pretty hard last month and I’m driving down 320th and I see a huge, looming object from over my shoulder. It roars down on to me and cuts me off, leaving me in a spray of slushy water. The only thing I could see for a time was the badging on the back of this behemoth auto, ‘Avalanche’.

This is a suitable name, don’t you think, for a vehicle that I have come to know as a terrible hodgepodge of unfortunate plastic panels juxtaposed with metal body parts configured as a sort of oversized trucklet. The whole of it looks as though it was assembled while hurtling down a mountainside. How apt. This brings us to consider the good minds at auto companies around the planet in charge of the naming of the cars we drive, these extensions of ourselves. But do these creative minds really put that much thought into who will be piloting the things they make and name?

I drive a Yukon. Does that mean I should spend weeks per year in uncharted parts of the Canadian Tundra ? Mrs. Anthony drives an Impala. Does she feel as though, while simply driving to work, she is hanging on for deer life from the back of an odd-antlered, but very speedy relative to the antelope? I think not. But it could be worse.

On any given day, you will see automobiles branded with awful monikers that either have no relation at all to a human conveyance, or simply make no sense, even to a child or a dog.

The Probe? What was the mindset behind this brainstorm? To appeal to space enthusiasts? Perhaps to Doctors? (Forgive me.) Without fully involving cars that are sold in foreign countries, due to the obvious cultural language gap (Honda Life Dunk?, Toyota Deliboy?), there is plenty of head scratching to do over US car manufacturers when they choose names like ‘Cavalier’ which according to Webster means, ‘haughty, disdainful or supercilious’. A ‘Caprice’ smacks of capriciousness. Compulsive and unpredictable? Chevrolet also created a dull-looking boxy affair of a car and then named it the ‘Citation’. Whatever for?

And what of the Mercury ‘Villager’…do you see the image of a guy with a hayfork and a lantern too?

There is historical precedence here too. Anyone remember the Desoto Firedome? Doesn’t this sound less like a thing to ride around in than a place to cook your steak? And geography came into play years ago with cars like the Chevy ‘Biscayne’ and Oldsmobile ‘Town and Country’ and more recently, Toyota co-opted the questionable ‘Tacoma’. How about some other local choices? The Ford ‘Ballard’. This car might only go about 25 mph and the turn signals should stay on all the time, the Chevrolet ‘Kent’ could have a convertible roof that looks like a mullet haircut. Any car named the ‘Federal Way’ would have to be a government vehicle, but an Acura ‘West Seattle’ might have some sophistication.

And to be fair, there are good car names. The Lamborghini Diablo, for instance looks just as the name sounds. And Rolls Royce has a Silver Ghost, which is suitable. Both of these million dollar cars deserve million dollar names. Lincoln’s ‘Navigator’ is clearly a reference to this enormo SUV’s boat-like form, and the Nissan ‘Cube’ is as self-descriptive as it gets. Still, there are those inscrutable names, names that force the observer to ask, ‘What…were you thinking?’ Trucks are not immune to the car-nage of bad names either. Would you feel safe in (or in front of ) a truck called a ‘Ram’?
The Chevrolet ‘Luv’ is inexplicable enough and what, really, is a Hummer?

Still, it is incumbent upon automakers to name their products, because if they don’t, one of us numbskulls who buys that product will coin his or her own name, and (gasp) it will stick. Here, I cite names like ‘Old Red’, ‘Betsy’, ‘The Clunker’, ‘The Beast’ and ‘The Tank’, along with ‘El Rauncho’ and the teenager’s standby, ‘Mom’s Car’.

If I was in the industy and had my say, I think I would create names more appropriate to the automobile’s function. There would be the Cadillac ‘Eatsgas’, the Ford ‘Extrabiggin’, the Kia ‘OuchLegCramp’, and the BMW ‘Wallet’.

I have a friend who named his daughter, ‘Camrie’. She’s an economical and dependable girl. A perfect fit.

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