What's in a name anyway?
The Biker's Diary
Wednesday, September 05, 2012 3:19 AM
Numerous times when I've gotten a fortune cookie to end my meal at a restaurant, the saying inside is something like "The only purpose of a child's middle name is to let the kid know how upset you are." That never happened to me, that is I don't recall my parents ever using my middle name to let me know I was in deep trouble. Instead, my father would tell me to go stay in my room until he "got ready" to talk to me. I always took that to mean he was really upset.
In fact, I can't think of any actual useful purpose for a middle name. That could be related somehow to the fact that my mother hated nicknames. So until I was out in the big wide world, I was always Janice. There was one exception; one of my parents' employees called me Jannie. I have never known why, nor did my parents ever correct him. I am just grateful it didn't stick.
My mother tried to end up with names for her children that couldn't be shortened. And mostly it worked except for that close call with Jannie. But to make doubly sure, she named my brother Kim, thinking no one could ever find a nickname for that. She was wrong: some people called him Kimmie for awhile but like Jannie, that didn't stick either.
On this last trip to California and Arizona, we had rented cars at three different locations. At all three, the car waiting for me was a "complimentary upgrade," and all three were big honkers that looked the size of a small boat. So three times, I did the quick exchange: pick out the one I wanted from the rows labeled "exchange."
Later, trying to remember all the kinds of cars we drove and the ones which had originally been assigned to me (the boats!), it occurred to me that there may be some pattern to how car companies name their models, much as my mother had a pattern as to how to pick names for her children.
At one place, we had been assigned an Explorer, and changed it to an Escape. At home we intended to buy a Focus and ended up with a Fusion. I have heard of Fiestas, and F-100's and F-150's. I've even heard of Edsels. There does seem to be a pattern. Is it the first letter of the name that makes it eligible (E's and F's for Ford)? Or the meaning of the word, such as Explorer for a big honker SUV and Focus for a much smaller model, maybe "focusing" on efficiency?
I did a little looking to see if anyone else was curious about the same thing. I found an article from AOL Autos (6/14/2011) by William Jeanes, editor-at-large; Jeanes had at one time worked in marketing for Ford. He said that "Ford once sought consistency by announcing it would only use names beginning with 'F.'" But, he wrote, that was short-lived because "no sane marketer would change the name of Mustang to Fireball."
Way back when I was studying intercultural stuff, I heard about Chevrolet's blunder when they sent the Nova to Latin American countries; the Spanish slang word Nova was said to mean "no go."
While the truth of that story is now in question, it does serve to point out that a bit of caution is wise when naming cars for sale anywhere. According to billcasselman.com, writing "Words of the World," the word pinto means penis in the Portuguese slang of Brazil, not exactly the best name to sell cars. And the Japanese named their Mazda "La Puta" hoping for the image of small, i.e., "Lilliputian" as in Gulliver's Travels. But, in Spanish it means "whore." Toyota's Tiera in Puerto Rican Spanish means "ugly old woman." And the Rolls-Royce "Mist" means "dung, or manure" in German.
I was curious as to what new names would appear for Fords for 2013. While I am not really familiar with what has been used in the past few years, I did see more "E's" and "F's" in the lineup, such as the Edge, Expedition and Flex, along with the E150, E250, and E350.
It seems clear that picking names for a car model could be either an asset or a problem, and either could lead to a nickname, a good or bad one. One writer (M. Grossinger at jalopnik.com) said that "When a car connects with the public it usually gets a nickname that reflects its style, demeanor or habit of exploding." I guess that's what led to an old nickname of the Explorer, the "Exploder," due to the once-common tire blowouts.
I guess if I were to pick a nickname for my favorite of the three rentals we just experienced, I'd call the Escape by the name "Easy." When we turned in the vehicle at the end of that rental, the person checking us in was the same one there when we picked up the car. I told him how much I liked it, and we talked for a while. Then he turned to Spouse Roger and told him to buy one for me because "she deserves it!" Of course I agreed.
As I am now unpacking and putting away my travel IDs, I am reminded again of having never heard my parents call me by my full name. That was always OK because I was never fond of my middle name. But I guess everything changes as we mellow with age, and as I see my full name on my ID I realize that too has changed. Now, I rather like it; it was also my mother's first name.
Sometimes now when I am being paged or called to a podium, someone does use my full name. It sounds OK. But so does my nickname, even if my mother might not have approved.