“There’s a whole set of strategic considerations that come in,” says Pyrah. “A model name needs to appeal to the market space, to capture the essence of what the car is trying to do, but at the same time it must sit within the manufacturer’s corporate portfolio and perhaps a set of car naming conventions as well. And the other element is trademarking – is the name actually available?”
Traditionally, most manufacturers would favour consistency of naming. For example, Volkswagen would often name models after winds (Scirocco, Passat, Jetta), or Lamborghini would use the name of bulls. “There are historical heartlands where brands have tried to have product families, but they then try to stretch their portfolios,” says Pyrah. “Ford for years went with names beginning with F – Focus, Fusion, Fiesta – but then it has things like the Kuga and C-Max. Ford is trying to say: ‘Look, our core products are over here – these reliable-sounding, real words starting with F – and out here is a different name to signal a different kind of product’.”
The rise of model names based on invented words or adapted versions of existing ones is due to the dearth of real words that remain viable for use.
“In the mid-1990s, we hit peak trademark availability in terms of using real words,” says Pyrah. “Most real, emotional, fun, obvious words have gone. It has become harder to find natural-sounding words.”
The industry has adapted, but conventions run through market segments. Letters such as Q and K often denote ruggedness in the SUV sector (think Qashqai and Karoq), whereas E and I are common signifiers of electric and hybrid cars, which tend to have scientific- sounding names (Ioniq or Volt). “It only takes one company to stick its neck out in a particular style of vehicle and then everyone else starts doing it,” says Pyrah. “Nearly all SUVs have technical-sounding names. Graphically challenging letters like K and Q have become a convention. Also, changing the name [in this way] makes the word easier to trademark.”
As well as ensuring that the name is more emotionally resonant than one that a computer might generate, a brand expert will also ensure that the name works as well in Beijing as it does in Bayswater. In the past, there have been names that just haven’t translated well from one language or alphabet to another.