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Cars: "it's called what?"

Editorial Staff

It used to be the preserve of Japanese manufacturers to call their cars by stupid names. Then marketing men all over the world got involved and now it's a global idiocy. The latest batch of new names is, quite simply, ridiculous. Or is it?

Ah, the days of XK120, E-Type, MG-B, even the dear old Anglia, Cortina, Corvette, Elan, Elise and Europa. Maybe Lotus were trying to stick with the letter E as the first letter of the name of their cars when they chose Evora for the new 2+2 formally announced at the British Motorshow yesterday. They had already gone a bit strange with the name Exige but the new name seems, somehow, wrong.

But actually, it kind of follows the trend adopted by Ford Europe in the 1960s - of naming cars after cities. In this case, Evora is small town and a world heritage site in Portugal, renowned for its Roman temple and Moorish buildings. No such justification for Kia which has produced a seriously cute and seemingly impossibly good for the money small car called the cee'd. What? Its a so-called C-Segment car. It was announced as a concept car in 2006 and it's on the roads now - a rare example of a concept becoming reality in a form similar to its announcement. Indeed, the name is so silly that there is huge inconsistency in the way it is reported: c'eed, C'eed, cee'd, Cee'd. There's even a model called the Pro-cee'd. Still Kia, a Korean company, have also launched the Kia Soul. Maybe it's just that their marketing department has a sense of humour.

Nissan, which didn't learn its lesson with proper words that didn't travel well (Sunny, Cherry) has the Cefiro (bloody good car, we have one and it's an unsung hero of the motor industry the apparently stupid name for which is actually not stupid - when you know the secret. Cefiro (albeit covered with accents) is Spanish for Zephyr ( a name used by Ford Europe in the 1960s for half of its large "Z-Cars" range - the other was Zodiac). Using Spanish isn't such a bad idea, given that it is now the second most widely spoken language in the USA and "Latin America", and is common across much of the world, albeit in isolated pockets such as The Phillipines, Spain... Then again, in those markets, and in the UK, Nissan called the same car the Maxima. Not genius, then. Then it goes and names its small car the "Note" and its "car for tough urban living" the Qashqai. And yes, that is also a word: it's an Anglicisation of an ethnically Turkic population. Nomads, they live in southern Iran and speak their own version of Turkish.

Proton have been widely ridiculed for names such as Wira and Waja and in English speaking countries they do sound, er, embarrassing. But they are Malay words and much (traditional, genuine) Malay is based on a rich mix of middle eastern languages plus sanskrit: there are identifiable similarities in spoken and the Romanised character forms of the languages from Samoa to Turkey, and across Indo China including very significant commonality into Thai. Including more than 120 million people in Indonesia, the proportion of the world's population that speaks or reads a language that is related to, even slightly recognisable as traditional Malay is surprisingly large. In fact, the words mean things like "hero." Brave words for the little car that "boleh," (modern Malaysian Malay for "can") or at least its original designers hoped. Newer models have trendier, more global names like the Gen-2. And we are all waiting for the long rumoured Lotus / Proton SUV that both companies are keeping very tight lipped about despite pictures appearing from time to time.

So is there a lesson?

Yes: there are truly stupid names on the back of cars - but many of those we first think of as stupid show our own ignorance rather than the apparent lunacy of those that choose the names. Perhaps marketing departments need to remember that and explain the name more clearly.

Then we might not resist even looking at a car simply because we don't want to feel embarrassed when we tell people what we drive, or forced to explain it in the face of laughter.