There are numerous myths and apocryphal stories surrounding the marque Rolls-Royce, but one that is verifiable is the naming of one of their models ‘Silver Mist’, in line with other silver items, like ‘Ghost’, ‘Cloud’, ‘Shadow’,’Spirit’, ‘Spur’ and ‘Wraith’. The ‘Silver Mist’ followed the same fate as an Irish liqueur named ‘Irish Mist’, which had disastrous sales in Germany, mainly due to the fact that ‘mist’ translates as manure, shit or crap. The phrase ‘one can’t polish a turd’ comes to mind, in this case, particularly a silver one.
The Mitsubishi Station is a name that has caused much merriment in the motoring press. Mitsubishi says that the name is a contraction of ‘Star of Orion’, but a more cynical element thinks it was a simple Engrish mispronunciation of a ‘stallion’, an animal associated with power and speed. At the end of a commercial made in 1990, a horse’s head appears, with the voiceover naming the beast, ‘Starion,’ in the same way the name ‘Mustang’ might evoke strength and potency. AMC produced a car in the 1970s called a ‘Gremlin’, something that one really does not want in a motor car, which is almost as strange as Plymouth naming their two-door fastback a ‘Barracuda’, which, according to the dictionary, is a ‘ray-finned fish known for its large size, fearsome appearance and ferocious behaviour.’
Two more Japanese SUVs, the Mitsubishi ‘Pajero’ and Isuzu ‘Big Horn’, caused loud guffaws in Spanish-speaking countries, as a ‘pajero’ literally translates as a wanker or tosser, and a big horn is not unconnected to the aforementioned activity. On the subject of ‘pajero’, the US computer company Wang came up with a strap-line, which had their English cousins chortling over their keyboards. The memorable line was ‘Wang Cares’. Two other names from Nissan that did not quite catch on in England were the gloriously archaic ‘Gloria’ and ‘Cedric’ saloons. Toyota unfortunately named one of their models ‘Previa,’ which is an obstetrics term for a blockage in the birth canal, known as ‘placenta previa,’ when the placenta is too low in the uterus, and is pushed up against the cervix. They may have been trying to call it ‘praevia’, which in Latin means ‘going before.’ Speaking of medical matters, who would want to drive around in Ford ‘Probe?’
It is not just the Japanese who mis-fire when naming their cars. Renault named one of their models ‘Koleos’, which means ‘sheath’ in Greek, but also means ‘testicle’ in Latin. It shares the same root with ‘cholecystitis,’ an inflammation of the gallbladder. Renault were in trouble again for naming their electric supermini concept car ‘Zoé’, with a 23-year-old French lady called Zoé Renault petitioning to have the name changed, as it would potentially make her life a ‘nightmare’, with jokes a-plenty about her having a breakdown or going in for a service. However, the judge found no evidence that it would cause her ‘certain, direct and current harm’, and dismissed the case, citing the fact that Renault had already used other womens’ names like ‘Clio’, ‘Dyane’ or ‘Mégane’, without any protestations. In 1971, Ford introduced the ‘Pinto’ car into Brazil, only to experience a lukewarm reception, until someone pointed out that ‘pinto’ is Brazilian slang for ‘small penis’.
Far eastern manufactures do not necessarily have a monopoly on weird names, but Isuzu named one of their SUVs ‘Mysterious Utility Wizard MU’, which is indeed mysterious, while Subaru called their five-door estate ‘Gravel Express’ and Honda came up with ‘Life Dunk’ for their boxy little wagon. Mitsubishi went for ‘Delica Space Gear’, a supremely ugly van, while Peugeot christened one of their less than attractive offspring the ‘Tepee’. Mitsubishi ambitiously named one of their cars, the ‘Charisma,’ and a more uncharismatic car one could not imagine. Honda went for ‘HR-V Joy Machine’ for a small SUV, which could easily send out the wrong message, and Fiat came up with the ironic name ‘Uno Start’, which were notoriously difficult to fire up in the first place. If Vauxhall had checked out the Spanish for ‘does not go’, they might not have called one of their models ‘Nova’, and General Motors actually called their 1990 electric concept car the ‘Impact,’ which brings to mind crumple-zones and insurance claims. For sheer optimism, Skoda must surely get a prize for naming their rather mundane saloon ‘Rapid.’ Fiat produced a sexy little limited-edition 500 in metallic green with alloy wheels, and ‘Diesel’ badges plastered all over the bodywork, seats. The only problem was that it was a commercial tie-up with the jeans manufacturer ‘Diesel’, and more than one owner subliminally filled their car up with the wrong fuel, as they were exclusively petrol-powered.
The Mitsubishi ‘Lettuce’ takes some beating, followed closely by Mazda’s ‘Bongo Friendee’, ‘Carol Me Lady’ and ‘Scrum Wagon’, Nissan’s ‘Homy Super Long’, Suzuki’s ‘Every Joypop Turbo’ and the Toyota ‘Deliboy,’ but one of the most puzzling names to come out of Japan, is the Honda ‘That’s’. What’s that car, Jim? It’s a ‘That’s’. It’s a what? It’s a ‘That’s’, that’s what.