Beyond resorting to randomly rearranging a selection of letters from a Scrabble bag, deciding on a suitable name for a new car model can be just as stressful and problematic for the motor industry because many of the most impactful and memorable vehicle names are already spoken for, and legally registered as worldwide trademarks in many cases.
Recent history suggests that premium car makers tend to opt for a minimalist numeric and letter combination for model designations, like the BMW 745e, Audi A6, Lexus LS 500 and Volvo XC90. Some more mainstream models are named, like the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Skoda Fabia, Fiat Panda and so on. High-end models often prove exceptions to the rules, adopting names rather than numbers, like Rolls-Royce Phantom, Bentley Mulsanne, Pagani Huayra, Cadillac De Ville and more.
Over the years a handful of car makers have come up with some ingenious solutions to choosing a name for a new model. In the early 1950s, for example, Alfa Romeo ran a competition internally to find a suitable name for its important new entry-level model, the 101-Series, better known as the Giulia, with a desirable 101 Bertone Sprint Coupe being the prize awarded to the lucky winning entry.
Alfa Romeo repeated the exercise a few years later to launch the convertible variant of the Giulia in 1966, except this time it opened the competition up to the Italian public at large. A write-in competition invited people to name the Pininfarina-designed two-seater with the winner receiving a car. More than 100,000 entries were received with the chosen winner coming from Brescia. Guidobaldo Trionfi proposed the name Duetto (Italian for Duet) to signify the romanticism of the pretty two-seater. Unfortunately this fell foul of trademark law and the car was officially named the Alfa Romeo Spider 1600, although the Series 1 boat tail became known popularly known as the Duetto.
Rather than taking more ‘obvious’ naming inspirations from a geographic location (such as a mountain range, like the Ford Cortina and Taunus, Triumph Dolomite, Dodge Aspen), birds (Suzuki Swift, AMC Eagle, Ford Falcon), the weather (the windy Maserati Mistral and Bora, Volkswagen Scirocco, Mercury Cyclone) or a favoured family member (such as Ferrari Dino, Ford’s failed Edsel or the Lotus Elise), British Leyland also took a leaf out of Alfa Romeo’s book by opening up suggestions in-house to all BL employees to submit a suitable appellation for the vital new Austin ‘supermini’ hatchback ahead of its late 1980 launch. The highly-appropriate Metro name (initially Mini Metro, to help reinforce the new model’s close connections to the celebrated city car) was the victorious selected tag in preference to Match or Maestro (the latter name used on Austin’s 1983 Allegro replacement), its BL employee originator proudly being handed the keys to one of the very first shiny new Metros built for his winning name proposal.