The Witness - Wheels - - FRONT PAGE - SI­MON HAW

WHAT’S in a name?

Have you ever won­dered where the brand name of your car came from?

In some cases it is pretty ob­vi­ous. Only the most un­in­formed would think that a Ford was named af­ter a river cross­ing in­stead of that ornery na­tive of Dear­born, Michigan — can­tan­ker­ous old Henry. Like­wise Messrs Opel, Chrysler, Honda, Toy­oda (why the change from a “d” to a “t” is a bit of a mys­tery) and Chevro­let were all closely in­volved in the ve­hi­cles that bear their names. Mercedes-Benz is a lit­tle more com­pli­cated. While the Benz part comes from Karl Benz, the man who built the first petrol-en­gined mo­tor car, the Mercedes part was in­her­ited from his part­ner Got­tlieb Daim­ler, whose cars were diplo­mat­i­cally named af­ter Mercedes Jellinek, the daugh­ter of an Aus­trian diplo­mat who pro­vided both fi­nan­cial and moral sup­port.

Some mak­ers opted for acronyms. A well­known Ger­man ex­am­ple of this is BMW, which as most peo­ple know stands for Bay­erische Mo­toren­werke, of­ten wrongly trans­lated into English as “Bavar­ian Mo­tor Works” rather than the more ac­cu­rate “en­gine works”, as the core com­pany was a man­u­fac­turer of air­craft en­gines — hence the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a pro­pel­ler in the badge.

Two Ital­ian man­u­fac­tur­ers’ names are also acronyms. Fiat was not based on the Latin verb “let it be done”, although this was prob­a­bly in the back of the founders’ minds, but on an acro­nym for Fab­brica Ital­iana Au­to­moblili Torino, which trans­lates into English as “Fac­tory for Ital­ian Au­to­mo­biles in Turin”. A fre­quently mis­spelt maker’s name is Alfa Romeo as peo­ple of­ten as­sume that the “al­pha” is the first let­ter in the Greek al­pha­bet rather than the con­trac­tion of Anon­ima Lom­barda Fab­brica Au­to­mo­bili, which some­what more awk­wardly trans­lates into “Lom­bardy Fac­tory for au­to­mo­biles” — the “anon­ima” means “public com­pany”. Ni­cola Romeo was the en­tre­pre­neur who ac­quired con­trol of the com­pany.

Some­thing of a curved ball in the acro­nym stakes is the name Dat­sun, back with us af­ter a 30-year gap. DAT-branded ve­hi­cles took their name from the first letters of the sur­names of the com­pany’s three prin­ci­pal in­vestors (al­ways an idea to keep the money­bags on side). When the com­pany pro­duced its first small car they de­cided to name it Dat­son — son of DAT. When Nissan — a con­trac­tion of the words for Ja­panese In­dus­tries — took over they changed it to Dat­sun as “son” in Ja­panese meant “loss”, some­thing which all car­mak­ers are con­sti­tu­tion­ally averse to.

Some mak­ers’ names can be vaguely de­scribed as as­pi­ra­tional. The Bri­tish were fond of these — Stan­dard, Re­liant and Tri­umph — and look where it got them. I sup­pose Volk­swa­gen (Peo­ple’s Car) can also be seen in this cat­e­gory. Volk­swa­gen was a pro­ject of Adolf Hitler’s co-or­di­nated through the Kraft durch Freude (Strength through Joy, usu­ally short­ened to KdF) or­gan­i­sa­tion. VW are for­tu­nate that the orig­i­nal KdFwa­gen did not stick. But a pop­u­lar brand that most peo­ple prob­a­bly think was named af­ter its founder be­longs in this cat­e­gory. This is Hyundai — the Korean word for “moder­nity”. It’s not only the name it seems that is as­pi­ra­tional, the “H” logo is easily con­fused with that of another well-known make.

How­ever, quite the most un­usual deriva­tion of a car maker’s name be­longs to Audi. Its founder, Au­gust Horch, had set up his first fac­tory in the early years of the 20th cen­tury, but then had a fall­ing out with some of his part­ners. He left to set up a new car-mak­ing ven­ture, but for ob­vi­ous rea­sons could no longer call his new cars Horchs, as the name was al­ready in use for the prod­ucts from his orig­i­nal plant. What to do? The story goes that while he and oth­ers were mulling over the vexed is­sue of a new and snappy name for his cars, Horch ju­nior was busy do­ing his Latin home­work in a cor­ner of the same room (so much for vast cor­po­rate head­quar­ters) when he came up with the inspired idea of trans­lat­ing the fam­ily name — which means Hark, Hear, Lis­ten (take your pick) in Old Ger­man — into Latin, in this way Horch be­came Audi. Iron­i­cally, some years later both Horch and Audi were joined by DKW and Wanderer to form Auto Union, from whence came the four rings — one for each of the pre­vi­ously in­de­pen­dent man­u­fac­tur­ers — proudly dis­played on ev­ery Audi prod­uct.

• Si­mon Haw is the au­thor of Old Walls, New Echoes, the story of Mar­itzburg Col­lege’s last three decades, ob­tain­able from the school.

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