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Automobile names


The names of makes of automobiles often come from the family names of company founders, manufacturers, automotive designers, or other people or places deemed worthy of the honor. In most cases the first names of the people have been forgotten, but here are some of them:

  • Karl Benz (German), engine designer

  • David Dunbar Buick (Scottish, American), inventor

  • Cadillac, named after Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, a French adventurer, explorer, trapper, fur trader, and co-founder of the city of Detroit; highly regarded during his lifetime (1658-1730) but later regarded as one of the worst scoundrels ever to set foot on the North American continent.

  • Louis Chevrolet (Swiss, American), mechanic and race car driver

  • Walter Chrysler (American), industrialist

  • André-Gustave Citroën (French), industrialist and armament manufacturer

  • Gottlieb Daimler (German), engineer and industrial designer

  • the Dodge brothers (American), John (manager) and Horace (machinist), originally bicycle manufacturers

  • Enzo Ferrari (Italian), entrepreneur and race-car driver

  • Henry Ford (American), industrialist

  • James Alexander Holden (emigrated from England to Australia), entrepreneur, founded a business in Adelaide originally making saddles, stirrups, bridles, halters, reins, harnesses, etc.; his son and grandson later transitioned to car upholstery and minor mechanical repairs, then to vehicle bodies and engines, in addition to the importation of cars from abroad

  • Soichiro Honda (Japanese), engineer and industrialist

  • Jujiro Matsuda (Japanese), industrialist and businessman; for the automobile, the name was westernized to “Mazda” (“light” or “wisdom” in an early Iranian language)

  • Adriana Manuela Ramona Jellinek (nicknamed “Mercedes”), daughter of Emil Jellinek (German), entrepreneur and race car driver

  • Ransom E. Olds (American), manufacturer

  • the Packard brothers (American), William and James, manufacturers

  • Armand Peugeot (French), engineer and industrialist

  • Pontiac, a General Motors product named for the city of Pontiac, Michigan, which was named after Chief Pontiac (Obwandiyag), a Native American leader (1720?-1769) known for his resistance to British occupation of the Great Lakes region.

  • Ferdinand Porsche (German), automotive engineer

  • Louis, Marcel, and Fernand Renault (French), an engineer and two businessmen

  • Charles Stewart Rolls (English), motoring and aviation pioneer

  • Sir Frederick Henry Royce (English), engineer and designer

  • the Studebaker brothers (American), Henry, Clement, John, Peter and Jacob, blacksmiths and wagon-builders, all with magnificent beards

  • Nikola Tesla (Serbian-American), electrical engineer and inventor

  • Kiichiro Toyoda (Japanese), entrepreneur (“Toyota” for the motor company)

In some cases the name of the automobile is an abbreviation, a word or phrase, a word for a logo, or the name of a holding company or an independent company.

  • BMW, founded in 1916, headquarters in Munich, Bavaria; the initials are the same in German and in English: Bayerische Motoren Werke, Bavarian Motor Works

  • Fiat stands for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino (Italian Automobile Factory of Turin).

  • Hyundai is a South Korean conglomerate; the word means “modernity.”

  • Jaguar, originally the name of a car produced in 1935 by S. S. Cars (founded earlier as the Swallow Sidecar Company), later (1945) an independent company, Jaguar Cars, and still later the subject of successive mergers with British Motor Holdings, Leyland Motor Corporation, Ford Motor Company, Land Rover, and Tata Motors.

  • Kia comes from the names of the two South Korean characters for “ki” and “a”; they stand for “coming out of” (the) “East.”

  • Lada is derived from a Russian word for a kind of Viking ship, an image of which is used as the logo. Inexpensive and mechanically easy to maintain, this Russian car is widely used in parts of Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean.

  • Mitsubishi can be translated as “three diamonds” (the car’s logo) in Japanese.

  • Nissan is a short form of the holding company Nihon Sangyo listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

  • Saturn, founded as a private company, later a subsidiary of General Motors; named for the planet.

  • Subaru is the Japanese name of the Pleiades star-cluster in the constellation Taurus; it refers to the cluster of companies that merged to form Subaru’s parent company, Fuji Heavy Industries.

  • Volkswagen means “the people’s car” in German.

  • Volvo means “I roll” in Latin (first-person singular, from the verb volvere), originally used for a new line of ball bearings produced by AB SKF, a Swedish manufacturing firm; the name was later taken over by the founders of the automobile manufacturers in 1927.


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