Just how do cars get their names? Wyn Drabble asks. Photo / Wyn Drabble
Last week I followed a car that bore a model name I’d not seen before. It was automotive proof that the Japanese still haven’t called in all the necessary help in the matter of car
Okay, it wasn’t as bad as their early ones – Go, Forward, Quickly, Carry, Every Pop Joy, Cedric, Mysterious Utility Wizard, Titan Dump, Mini Active Urban Sandal (and I have not made up any of those) – but I feel it’s still worthy of mention, though I admit it does feel a little lame after the preceding examples.
It was a Nissan Expert.
It was not clear what it was supposed to be an expert at, but to achieve that explanation the whole rear of the vehicle would have been covered with text.
You can easily see the sort of resonances they were trying to evoke when they were sitting around the board table – good at its job, that sort of thing. Nothing wrong with that.
Board chairman: I want a name that suggests it is good at what it does.
Board member: Expert?
Board chairman. Great! Job done. Let’s all go to a bar.
If the Expert producers did wrap it up that quickly, they were probably lucky when you stop to consider all the other options they could have chosen. Expert was possibly the pick of the bunch.
They could, for example, have chosen Specialist. It ticks most of the boxes, but still manages to sound very silly.
Rocket Scientist? Yes it has the right vibe, but fails to roll trippingly from the tongue.
Dab Hand? Nicely assonant, yes, but perhaps a little too informal.
Hotshot? The same.
Maestro, too, has the right vibe, but it has already been used by the British on one of their Austin models in the 1980s.
Jolly Good? Possibly a little too British.
Real Cracker? Possibly a little too Australian.
Accomplished? Technically Adept? Mastermind? Brainbox? All have the right vibe, but lack that special something that can help Japanese car names stand out from the pack.
So I hope you see that, while Expert sounds rather silly, it was the best pick from a rather sillier bunch.
It’s a little harder to imagine the discussion at a rival factory’s boardroom that resulted in the name Mitsubishi Minica Lettuce.
Board chairman: I think we should go with a fresh-garden-vegetable sort of feeling.
Board member: Lettuce?
Board chairman: Great! Job done. Let’s all go to a bar.
I’ll guarantee you won’t work out the reasoning behind Mitsubishi’s Mum 500 Shall We Join Us? Yes, all those words are part of the name.
It certainly wasn’t grammatical accuracy that drove them. Perhaps it was all about seeing how many words they could use for a car name without misspelling any of them.
Mitsubishi’s board members had their work cut out for them when their brief was to name a high-roof car and combine it with a freshwater-fish feeling. The result, Mitsubishi Toppo Big Joy Guppy, suggests they should have delayed their bar visit until after, rather than before, their naming session.
Or how about Honda’s Vamios Hobio Travel Dog? It was marketed by its makers as the world’s first dog-friendly small utility vehicle. You probably will not be surprised to learn it was also the world’s last dog-friendly small utility vehicle.
But I’d like to close with another of Nissan’s nomenclature triumphs, the Lafesta, probably as close as a car name can come to the concept of a septic sore. On the very day I spotted the Expert, I followed an afesta. No, not a new model. The L had fallen off.
• Wyn Drabble is a teacher of English, a writer, a musician and public speaker.