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Whats in a name?

Have you ever wondered how car manufacturers got their names? A lot of the time, the names of the founders are the inspiration behind the names, however there are a lot of others that aren’t. We look at some of these to find out how they got their names.

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Alfa Romeo

The Italian manufacturer was started in 1910 and was originally named Alfa which stood for Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobil (Lombard Automobile Factory Company). The Lombard part representing it’s home town of Milan, which is the capital of the Lombardy region.

In 1915, the company was bought by Nicola Romeo, who converted its factories for military hardware during World War One.

After the war ended in 1918, the factories were converted back to producing cars, and to mark this new era for the company, Nicola Romeo lent his surname to the company to form Alfa Romeo in 1920.

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Aston Martin

Aston Martin was originally named Bamford & Martin Ltd, with it’s two founders, Robert Bamford and Lionel Martin lending their names. However, this name didn’t last long, as Lionel Martin successfully ran up the Aston Hill in Buckinghamshire in 1914 and so added Aston to the name of the company after this. The first Aston Martins started being sold less than a year later.

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Audi was founded by a man called August Horch. August started a company called A. Horch & Cie. Motorwagen Werke, however 10 years later he fell out with the other directors of the company, and left to start another company in Zwickau, Germany. Because his name was already trademarked by his former company, he couldn’t use it, so a friend suggested he use the Latin translation of his name, which is ‘Audi’, so Audi Automobilwerke GmBH was born in April 1910.

The logo comes from the 1932 merger of Audi, Horch, DKW and Wanderer, which together created Auto Union AG, then the second largest motor vvehicle manufacturing group in Germany. Auto Union was eventually disbanded after World War Two, but then grew again until 1958 when Friedrich Flick and Daimler AG jointly purchased Auto Union, with Volkswagen taking control of the company in 1964. This is when the name Audi was brought back and the Auto Union name was dropped, although the four rings logo remained.



BMW is actually a very logical name, basically being an acronym for Bavarian Motor Works (translated) or Bayerische Motoren Werke in German. The latter is even used by BMW in English language marketing, perhaps to remind people of its German heritage

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Dacia started in Romania, and is one of the countries most successful businesses. The name Dacia was chosen as it was the name of an ancient kingdom in Central Europe, which corresponds to the modern day Romania. It was taken over by the Romans in the second century AD.

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Like BMW, the name Fiat is an acronym. When the company was created in 1899, the factory was called the Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, shortened to Fiat. In English, this translates as the Italian Automobiles Factory of Turin.



Isuzu is named after the Isuzu River in Japan, despite the company being based in Tokyo, miles away from the river. The company bears its name because the river is famous in Japan and mentioned in many Japanese poems



Jaguar was originally founded as the Swallow Sidecar Company (SS) in 1922, and as its name suggests, made motorbike sidecars before moving into car bodies. Many of the cars produced bore Jaguar as the name, after the American wildcat, eventually leading them to change their name to Jaguar in 1945. It is thought that part of the reason for this name change was to avoid an association with the Nazi’s Schutzstaffel (or SS as it’s better known as)

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Kia was founded in December 1944 and originally named Kyungsung Precision Industry. They manufactured steel tubing and bicycle parts, followed by Korea’s first bicycle. In 1952, they changed their name to Kia Industries and started manufacturing cars from 1974. The name Kia is actually derived from Sino-Korean characters “ki” and “a”, which together translate as ‘Rising from East Asia’, in homage to their Korean roots.

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Land Rover

Land Rover was originally part of Rover, which was better know for its saloon cars, and Land Rover was the name given to their off road vehicles in 1948. It was a big success and eventually in 1978, Land Rover grew into its own brand and company when it broke away from Rover. In 2008, Tata Motors who were now the owner of Jaguar and Land Rover, established Jaguar Land Rover as a new company.

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The company was founded in Hiroshima, Japan, as the Toyo Cork Kogyo Co Ltd, in January 1920, and was renamed to Toyo Kogyo Co Ltd in 1927. All of the automobiles produced by the company were named Mazda, and in 1984, the Mazda name was formally adopted for the company. The name Mazda is associated with Ahura Mazda (God of Light)

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Mercedes Benz was founded by Karl Benz and his wife Bertha under the original name of Benz & Cie in 1883. Separately, Gottlieb Daimler set up Daimler Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) around the same time. In 1897, Emil Jellinek, an Austrian businessman, became one of the first Daimler customers, using the cars to drive in Europe’s growing auto races under the name of his 12 year old daughter ‘Mercedes’. Following a long relationship, he pushed Daimler to make faster cars he could sell himself, on the condition that they would be called Mercedes. Daimler agreed and worked with Emil Jellinek to create the first ‘Daimler Mercedes’, a race car originally built for Nice Week in 1901. It was so successful at the race, it drove sales of the car and made Mercedes a household name.

In 1926, after the First World War almost led them into financial ruin, DMG and Benz & Cie merged to create Daimler Benz AG. The new company logo used Daimler’s trade name ‘Mercedes’ and Karl Benz’s surname and the famed luxury brand name Mercedes Benz was born.

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Masujiro Hashimoto founded the Kaishinsha Motor Car Works, Japan’s first automobile manufacturer, in 1911, in Tokyo. The first car from the company was produced in 1914. It was called DAT, which was an acronym of the company’s investors surnames.

In 1928, Yoshisuke Aikawa founded the holding company Nihon Sangyo and bought out DAT in 1931. The name Nissan was used in the 1930’s as an abbreviation on the Tokyo Stock Exchange and over the years Nissan eventually came to be used for the official name of the company and the cars it manufactured.

Interestingly, the Datsun badge was used on Nissan cars exported out of Japan right up until 1981, when it was decided the Nissan name would replace Datsun to strengthen awareness of the Nissan brand.

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Nicholas Hayek, CEO of SMH (makers of Swatch watches) had an idea to develop a new car that could be personalised like the watches. He could see a gap in the automobile market for a stylish city car and in 1982 his private engineering company began designing the car, known as the ‘Swatchmobile’. Hayek wanted to co operate with an existing car maker to help with the cost of distribution and avoid other car makers feeling threatened, so he began approaching manufacturers.

It wasn’t until 1991 that he finally reached an agreement with Volkswagen, however in 1993 the new CEO of Volkswagen at the time wanted to terminate the deal with Hayek to work on their own offering. In 1994, a deal was announced with Daimler-Benz AG instead. This led to the formation of the Micro Compact Car AG (MCC) company. Hayek pushed for the new cars to retain Swatch in some way but Daimler- Benz refused and wanted a neutral name. The final name chosen was Smart, an acronym that had previously been used internally by MCC for Swatch Mercedes Art. The first Smart car was launched in 1998 and Daimler Benz then bought out SMH’s share in the company so it was a wholly owned subsidiary of Daimler-Benz.

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Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla who emigrated to the US in 1884 lends his name to the car company because of his contributions to the design of the modern AC electrical supply system.

He died in 1943 so never lived to see the electric car company named after him



Toyota was originally named after its founder, Sakichi Toyoda. Toyoda founded the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works in 1926, and it wasn’t until 1933, when Toyoda’s son Kiichiro joined the company and started a motor division that they started manufacturing cars. In 1936, the company ran a competition to design a new logo and of 27,000 entries, the winning entry was the three Japanese katakana letters for ‘Toyoda’ in a circle. The name was then changed to ‘Toyota’ in 1937 because it took eight brush strokes which is a lucky number in Japan, rather than 9

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TVR was founded in 1946 by Trevor Wilkinson, who originally named the company Trevcar Motors. He thought he could do better with the name so he removed ‘evca’ from the original name and capitalised the remaining TVR letters to get the final name.



Volkswagen was founded in 1937 by the German Labor Front and famously means ‘people’s car’.

It was started when, in 1934, Adolf Hitler ordered the production of an affordable family car using a beetle design created by Ferdinand Porsche. As the private car industry couldn’t meet the tight costs for making this car, Hitler sponsored a state owned factory with funding provided by the Nazi party.

It was started when, in 1934, Adolf Hitler ordered the production of an affordable family car using a beetle design created by Ferdinand Porsche. As the private car industry couldn’t meet the tight costs for making this car, Hitler sponsored a state owned factory with funding provided by the Nazi party.

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Volvo was originally established as part of a company called SKF, a manufacturer of ball bearings. The brand name ‘Volvo’ was originally registered in 1911, and its original intention was to be used for a new series of SKF ball bearings. However, this idea wasn’t followed through and instead SKF just used its initials for its bearing’s products. Volvo translates to ‘I roll’ or ‘I revolve’ in Latin and the name was resurrected for the automobile part of the business when this was launched in 1926, as a nod to the ball bearings business that started it all.

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7th of November 2019

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