For some automotive brands, tracing the origins of their name requires hardly any thought at all—take Ford for example. For others, their name was simply the result of a convoluted metric of corporate branding, as was the case with Infiniti and Lexus. Some, though, have legitimate stories behind them that are as fascinating as the vehicles are awesome.
Here are 10 of the very best:
Robert Bamford and Lionel Martin founded Bamford & Martin LTD in 1913. In 1914, they entered a car in the Aston Hill Climb in Buckinghamshire. They won, and to capitalize on the success, the Aston Martin name was born.
Audi’s name history is a little complicated and is not, contrary to popular belief, derived from the Auto Union days. It was founded by August Horch, as August Horch Automobilwerke, but through a series of mergers and buyouts, he couldn’t use his own name. The legend goes that while he was debating a new name, his son said “audiatur et altera pars.” It’s a Latin phrase meaning “listen to the other side,” and it's fundamental to the concept of trial by jury. It also has this nice coincidence: Audi means “Listen” in Latin, and loosely translates in German to Horch. Problem solved.
Most Anglophiles know Jaguar was originally the Swallow Sidecar company. When it first started making cars in the mid 1930s, they were called SS, with the SS Jaguar being the most performance-oriented of the lot. Of course, during WWII, SS was synonymous with Nazis, and as the war drew to a close and car production could once again be considered, the name was changed to Jaguar because “Unlike S.S. the name Jaguar is distinctive and cannot be connected or confused with any similar foreign name.”
Subaru is the Japanese name for Pleiades, the most obvious cluster of stars in the Taurus constellation. It’s actually fairly important in Japanese history, which is why it was chosen by the head of parent company Fuji, when he decided that its new car should have a Japanese name.
Similar to the Audi story, Mazda is a matter of a famous name lining up very well with that of the company founder, Juijiro Matsuda. The official line is that the name is a reference to Ahura Mazda—an all-powerful deity that the ancient Persians considered to be the creator of everything good.
It’s not often that a company is named after its own logo, but that’s been the case with Mitsubishi since the 1870s. Mitsu is Japanese for three, and Hishi (prounounced Bishi at the end of a word) means rhombus, or diamond. The logo is a combination of two familial crests: that of the founder, and that of his first employer.
There are actually a slew of theories surrounding the origin of Lotus’s name, ranging from a fruit that cured homesickness in Homer’s Odyssey, to the eponymous flower, to a veiled reference to the phrase “us lot,” which founder Colin Chapman used frequently. The simple fact, though, is that no one outside of Colin and his wife knew for sure. As the company itself puts it: “The truth died with Chapman.”
Everyone always assumes Jeep comes from the slang version of the army term “general purpose,” or GP. That’s not entirely wrong, but it runs deeper than that. The Willis Overland was more frequently called the “Peep,” since it was a reconnaissance vehicle. As such it was coded GP, which meant it was a government vehicle with a wheelbase of 80 inches.
Founder Henry Leland thankfully didn’t name his first car company after himself, instead opting for Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, a French army officer, who founded a little town in Michigan called Detroit. Fun fact: Leland’s second car company, Lincoln, was named after the president, whom he actually voted for in 1864.