THIS WEEK’S FLAP about Renault giving their new electric car a popular female first name piqued our interest in how cars get their names. From animal imagery to alphanumeric codes, a name is a car’s first opportunity to sell itself. It can become the stuff of legend or the butt of jokes.

Typically, an automaker’s product development team will name a car in the concept phase. If executives are fans of the name and it tests well, it may stay with the car through production. Other times, a carmaker will outsource name development to a naming firm. We wanted to find out just what some carmakers were thinking when naming their products (Ford Probe, anyone?) so we caught up with Laurel Sutton, a principal at the naming firm Catchword Brand Name Development in order to get a better idea of how cars are christened and what names do and don’t work.

Take AMC’s lineup in the mid ’70s, famous for quirky cars with fittingly bizarre names. “Gremlin is a terrible name and it’s surprising it was ever launched,” Sutton told Autopia. “Pacer and Matador are not terrible names at face value.” Still, the relatively more normal names weren’t enough to save lousy cars from the same ridicule associated with the Gremlin.

A naming trend popular with luxury automakers is the cryptic code, from the famed BMW 3- 5- and 7-series to the alphabet soup of Lincoln’s current lineup. Automakers such as Acura and Cadillac have followed the lead of Mercedes and Lexus, abandoning Coupe d’Elegance and Integra for CTS and TL. Sutton says such tactics convey an “insider” status for owners and help promote a brand over a particular model. Abbreviations and numbers are “like a secret language that you learn as an enthusiast and owner of the luxury car,” but “it also requires that the parent brand carries all the weight and communicates all of the brand message.”

THIS WEEK’S FLAP about Renault giving their new electric car a popular female first name piqued our interest in how cars get their names. From animal imagery to alphanumeric codes, a name is a car’s first opportunity to sell itself. It can become the stuff of legend or the butt of jokes…