Automobile Names: What does it all mean?

Not long ago I started looking at the names of automobiles. Some of them are very exotic and others are non-translatable. The latter category caught my imagination. For example, the car I drive has two names beyond its brand name. First, it is an Imprenza; second, it is an Outback. The second name makes some sense. The car is a Suburu all four-wheel drive and I suspect it can drive easily into and through the Australian Outback. But, what is an Imprenza? My car is not alone, for example there is a car called a Focus another called a Taurus, and another a Fusion. Those are Fords, but Chevrolet has its own list of car names. They use places or types of ships. You can buy a Chevrolet Malibu sedan or a Chevrolet Tahoe truck. The Chevrolet sports car is called a Corvette. A corvette is a sleek sailing vessel that travels over the water at a fast clip.

Then there’s a Chevrolet called Lumina. That must have something to with light. Looking up the word on the Internet is no help; the searcher finds a reference to a lighting company and a metagenic (whatever that is) herbal remedy of some sort.

Focus, for example, is what we do when confronted with a problem or when we are adjusting a camera lens. Taurus is the Greek word for bull. I wonder how many people know that. Fusion is when you bring things together, for example nuclear fusion—the H bomb. Malibu is a coastal community just north of Los Angeles, California; what is the message we are to derive from that name? Ford also has a vehicle called an Edge. I guess that’s not too difficult to work out. The Ford Edge is the leading edge or on the edge of advanced design—you get it I am certain.

My curiosity got the best of me and I finally asked the question, “What does Chevrolet mean or stand for?” Ford is easy enough. Henry Ford invented a method to mass produce cars and sell them cheaply enough so those who made the cars could buy them. Chevrolet is a different matter. The car company is named after Louis Chevrolet, a Swiss auto racer, who was famous in the first decades of the twentieth century. A disgruntled former executive of General Motor partnered with Chevrolet to begin a new car company.

Foreign, Japanese and Korean, car manufactures have a whole list of strange names for their cars. Hyundai has a wonderful set of names for their cars; they are Accent, Elantra, Azera, and Tiburon. I have no idea what these names are supposed to convey; well, maybe I get the name Accent, meaning something that is supposed to stand out. Tiburon is a total blank for me; however, I did find it is the name of town in Marin County, California, so it must be a very high-class automobile.

My question is this, what is the message these names are supposed to impart? Names are important and they do convey something about the person or thing named.

In some instances names are impermanent. Several years ago I worked as a teacher for the Bureau of Indian Affairs at a Navajo boarding high school. The students frequently would tell me they had a new name. These names seemed to be taken arbitrarily and on whims. They had unchangable names, which I would never know. Those names were the secret names given to them by the tribal elders. Being an American Indian and a Navajo was more important than what I would call them.

Our culture, however, is stuck with names and naming things. This cultural feature is clearly an element of the European heritage for order, property, and family heritage. Naming mostly seems to come from the rituals like baptism and the Judaic and Christian traditions. For example, in Scripture God is named as “I am who I am”. Jesus is given his name by the archangel Gabriel and then named at the temple eight days after his birth in the Jewish tradition. Jesus confronts a demoniac and demands to know the name of the demon possessing the poor man in the country. The demon growls out at Jesus and says, “My name is Legion for we are many.” In order to deal with the demon Jesus needed to have its name; this is true in any critical area of life. In order to cure the sick the disease has to be named. To identify a person, a name is needed. To say that the man had curly brown hair and brown eyes does not identify the man; to say that the woman was short with long black hair and almond-shaped sloe eyes may make her an Asian, but does not identify her.

The Apostle Paul sees something very special in the name of Jesus. It is a common Hebrew name related to the name Joshua—in fact they are the same name. But the Jesus Paul is proclaiming is different. As he wrote to the church in Philippi, “Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name…”

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