The Problem With Names

(19 January 2012)

It has been some time since I last contributed one of my columns to this magazine (Editor: It has, hasn't it?) but the unvarnished truth of the matter is that I have been busier than usual.

In addition to the usual workload at Single Malt Monitor there is the fact that Mrs Flywheel and I recently moved to the quaint village of Much Improved-in-the-Telling, and have been engaged ever since in a war of words with our new neighbours, who object to the fact that the house formerly known as The Nook now goes under the name Expletive Deleted. To be perfectly frank with you, Mrs Flywheel isn't exactly jumping for joy about it either. Can't see the problem myself.

Having been in the firing line during all of the resulting to-do, I can now sympathise more than I used to with the people who have to give names to cars. It must be the devil's own job, coming up with something that makes sense to the general public but does not infringe someone else's copyright. On the other hand, if you think this makes me any more sympathetic when they get it wrong, all I can say to you is, "Hello, the name's Rufus. I don't believe we've met."

Take, for example, the case of Dacia. Since you're younger than I, and probably went to school after the previous and excellent British education system was replaced by a puddle of stale urine in the 1960s, I should explain that Dacia was originally the name of a province approximately encompassing what is now Romania.

When the Romanians, possibly for want of anything better to do with their time, started building Renaults under licence they most appopriately used Dacia as the name of the company but gave individual models less evocative titles. Their first product, for example, was the 1100, and a few years later they introduced one called the 1300. A sensible, no-nonsense policy, I think you'll agree.

Tempest, as we classical scholars say, has fugited. Dacia is a lot more adventurous with its naming policy these days than it used to be. There was - and still is - the Logan. Likewise the Sandero. Not too radical so far. But now news reaches me of a forthcoming model which someone has chosen to call the Lodgy. The Lodgy!

By my galligaskins, do I really have to spell out what nickname will be given to this benighted vehicle when, as I understand will happen, it goes on sale in the UK? The Lodgy. I mean, honestly. Dacia is simply playing with fire here.

So, to a lesser extent, is Vauxhall, which will soon be attempting to sell us a car called the Mokka. Headline writers are probably devising variations on the phrase "put the mockers on" as we speak.

Unfortunate naming strategies are nothing new. Back in the day, Citroen created an MPV called the Synergie, and from the moment I heard Ralph Allen - the single funniest man in the history of motoring journalism, sadly no longer with us - describe it as the "Syringe" I knew I would never think of it as anything else.

Similarly, when Volkswagen gave the highest level of trim available on its original Sharan MPV the name Carat, it was immediately rechristened the Sharon Carrot, reminding me of a red-haired girl from Dagenham whose company I used to enjoy until Mrs Flywheel threatened to resign if I didn't stop. At least Renault, which once used TRS as the name of a trim level, has had the good sense never to do so with the Clio, thereby averting much unpleasantness.

More seriously, the wrong name can have an unfortunate effect on sales. In the UK, Ford's large family car is heartily outsold by its Vauxhall rival, and there are those who suggest that Ford has brought this on itself by continuing to call it the Mondeo, a word which is associated beyond all hope of recovery with thoughts of low-level businessmen with sweat stains on their shirts. If this is true, Vauxhall did the right thing in ditching the Vectra tag and replacing it with Insignia.

Then there's Mitsubishi. The Starion, which you probably don't remember, was not the result of a Japanese failure to pronounce the word "stallion", but once the idea took hold in Britain it couldn't be shaken off. And the Carisma - not a bad car in its way - was doomed from the start because it was just east for a British journalist to write that, for something whose name sounded a lot like the word "charisma", it wasn't very charismatic.

I leave you with the thought that I have managed to write this entire article without once pointing out, as everyone else does, how funny MR2 sounds to the French, or Nova or Pinto to those who live in Spanish-speaking countries. Except in this paragraph. But that doesn't count.

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