The Truth Behind Car Brand Names

The Truth Behind Car Brand Names

If you've been wondering just how some of the biggest car brands got their names, look no further than here as we give you the answers

Some car brand names are boring. The likes of Ford, Honda, Suzuki, Peugeot, Citroen and Renault, for example, are simply named after their founders. Rolls-Royce, meanwhile, is named after both of its founders so it can remain upmarket and double-barrelled.

Others are named after places. Vauxhall, for example, is named after the London Borough in which it was founded, while Bristol requires no further explanation.

There are some car brands, though, that have a fascinating story behind their names, and others that maybe aren’t that exciting but may have you wondering regardless. Here, then, are the answers for the ultimate car name pub quiz…

Alfa Romeo

Alfa Romeo badge Giulia saloon

The Italian brand was initially known as ALFA, which stood for Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili (The Anonymous Lombard Automobile Factory). When businessman Nicola Romeo bought ALFA in 1915, his surname was added to the name – the irony being that it was no longer anonymous as a result.

Aston Martin

Aston Martin badge

There are two parts to the name Aston Martin. The Martin bit comes from the brand’s founder, Lionel Martin - a playboy with a taste for the good life. The Aston bit comes from Aston Hill, the rather grand part of Buckinghamshire where he lived.


In 1899, a man named August Horch was working as head of a motor vehicle department for Karl Benz. He decided to go it alone and founded A. Horch & Cie. Motorwagen Werke. Following a dispute with his partners, August left that company to set up a rival called called Horch Automobil-Werke GmbH. However, a court ruled that the Horch name belonged to his original firm. 

Horch loosely translated as "listen" in English, "hearken" in German and "audi" in Latin. With Audi yet to be trademarked, the company Audi Automobilwerke GmbH was born in 1910. Following financial struggles some 20 or so years later, Audi was merged with 3 other companies and hence the 4 ring logo was born. 



BMW badge

Initially a repair garage for other cars, BMW was formed as an amalgamation of three companies building car parts and components, which together became the Bayerische Motor Werken (Bavarian Motor Works). The company’s first car was the Dixi – an Austin 7 built under licence.


Cadillac Escalade SUV

America’s first luxury car brand was named after the 18th century French explorer Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, who was the founder of Detroit, Michigan, where the US car industry blossomed. Cadillac is a small town in the South of France.


Dacia Sandero kickplate name badge

Originally a Romanian off-shoot of Renault (and now the company’s budget brand), in ancient times, Dacia was a country in south-eastern Europe, which now covers north-western Romania where the cars are built.


Fiat 500 supermini

While the word ‘Fiat’ is Latin for victory, and thus a lot more romantic, the acronym FIAT stands for 'Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino', or The Turin Italian Car Factory’.


Hyundai logo

In Korean, Hyundai is a compound adjective that means ‘of the modern age’. As well as cars, Hyundai is a South Korean industrial powerhouse building everything from ships to hearing aid batteries.


Isuzu pick-up truck

The word Isuzu translated into English means ‘fifty bells’. Indeed, the first car that the brand sold in Europe was the Bellet, a nod to its origins.



The British sports car brand was forced to change its name after the Second World War. Originally Swallow Sidecars, the company changed its name to SS when it started making cars. But thanks to the unfortunate connotations, the name was changed. The company’s first true sports car was called the SS 100 Jaguar, so it donated its name.


Kia Logog

The word Kia has origins from Chinese (even though the company is from South Korea). The first syllable ‘Ki’, means to arise or come up from. The ‘A’ stands for Asia.


Mazda badge

‘Ahura-Mazda’ is the name of a Zoroastrian deity known for its wisdom. Mazda’s founder, Jujiro Matsuda, was profoundly spiritual, and believed in the deity’s powers.



A lot of people wrongly believe that Mercedes-Benz was named after motoring pioneer Karl Benz’s daughter, but this is untrue. While he provided the Benz part of the name, Mercedes was actually the daughter of Emil Jellinek, an Austrian motor engineer who created the trademark for the Daimler-Benz Motor Group.


Mitsubishi Outlander SUV

‘Mitsubishi’ is a combination of the words mitsu and hishi. Mitsu means three. Hishi means water chestnut, and the Japanese have used the word for a long time to denote a rhombus or diamond shape. So, it means either ‘three water chestnuts’ or ‘three diamonds’. The company’s badge would suggest the latter.


Nissan Qashqai badge SUV crossover

Nissan takes its name from Nihon Sangyo (meaning Japanese Industry). When founder Toshisuke Aikawa formed an abbreviation for the Tokyo Stock Exchange, it became Ni-San, later Nissan.


Seat logo

Another acronym, SEAT stands for Sociedad Española de Automóviles de Turismo, or ‘The Spanish Society of Touring Cars’


Subaru logo slogan

The name ‘Subaru’ is the Japanese term applied to the astrological constellation of Pleiades, or the Seven Sisters. Subaru’s parent company, Fuji Heavy Industries, was formed from a merger of six companies, and the constellation is featured on the company’s logo. 


Volkswagen brand logo

Simply, Volkswagen comes from the words ‘Volks’ and ‘Wagen’ – or People’s Car.


Volvo XC60 SUV crossover badge

Last but not least, the Swedish brand takes its name from Latin, where Volvo means ‘I-Roll’

Join the newsletter

Get the latest news, reviews and guides every week. Update your preferences at any time.