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The meaning behind the most popular car names

Have you ever wondered how car manufacturers name their vehicles?

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Car model names can often be pretty unusual. Some car makers like to make use of Latin words, while others will merge two words together to form a portmanteau. Here are the sometimes surprising origins of some of the most popular car model names.


The nation's most popular car manufacturer, Toyota, takes inspiration for names from a variety of sources.

CorollaA corolla is actually the name given to a plant's petals when they form a ring around the inner part of a flower. Toyota wanted to convey the sense of a striking, elegant compact car.
CamryToyota named the Camry after a Japanese crown, the Kanmuri, which when shortened to Kamuri (カムリ) translates to Camry.
HiLuxHiLux is a portmanteau, or a blending of two words. Those two words are high and luxury.
KlugerToyota marketers took this word from the German language. The verb klug means smart; kluger actually translates to smarter.
LandCruiserToyota's technical director, Hanji Umehara, came up with this one. The vehicle was originally called the Toyota Jeep BJ, but this resulted in a trademark case. Afterwards, the name LandCruiser was chosen, as the vehicle was a rival to the Land Rover.
PradoPrado is the Portuguese word for field or meadow.
PriusPrius is Latin for prior, before, first or previous.
RAV4Toyota coined the acronym, Recreational Activity Vehicle. The four indicates it has four-wheel-drive.
SupraThe Toyota Supra takes its name from Latin, where supra translates to transcending or above.


Mazda is Australia's second best-selling vehicle brand. The company originally manufactured cork, under the name Toyo Kogyo Co., Ltd. Later, the business was renamed to Mazda after Ahura Mazda, the god of harmony and wisdom. Mazda gives each model a number, so there's the Mazda 3, the Mazda 6 and the CX-9 among others. If nothing else, it's quite a simple (the larger the number, the larger the vehicle) naming structure and rather memorable.


In July 2019, Hyundai sold the third highest number of new cars. Hyundai comes from the Korean word 現代, or Heondae. This is rendered in English as modernity.

IoniqThe name is a portmanteau of the words ion (an atom with an electrical charge) and unique. Interestingly, ion in Greek translates to going or to go.
KonaHyundai has a tradition of naming its SUV models after places in the United States. Kona is a district of Hawaii.
Santa FeThe Santa Fe SUV borrows its name from New Mexico's capital. According to the company, they wanted to present the image of outdoor adventure with this vehicle.
TucsonAgain, Tucson is a city in America, situated in Arizona. The area is famous for a desert and hiking.


The fourth largest manufacturer borrowed its name from the Japanese word mitsu, or three, and hishi (which is pronounced bishi) meaning water chestnut. The word hishi is also used to denote a rhombus, hence the logo is three rhombi.

OutlanderThis name was chosen as it evokes the feeling of travelling to faraway, unexplored places on the hunt for adventure.
PajeroThis name was taken from the Leopardus Pajeros, a small South American wildcat.
TritonTriton was a mythological Greek god, the messenger of the sea.


Ford takes a quite literal approach to naming cars, with many of their models having Anglicised designations.

FocusPartly designed by an Australian car designer, the vehicle was codenamed C170. The name nearly had to be scrapped, as just before launch, a German news publisher using the same title took Ford to court. The matter was resolved and the car became the Focus.
MondeoFord took inspiration from the Latin word for world: mundus.
TransitThe ubiquitous Transit van was almost given the badge V-Series. A Transit van once sat buried under five metres of snow, and when the owner returned to it, the engine started right away.
MustangYou'd imagine the Ford Mustang was named after the breed of wild horses that lives in the Western United States. However, the story goes that the Mustang I concept car's co-designer, John Najjar, had a passion for the WW2-era P51 single-seat Mustang fighter plane. The evocative equine badging came afterwards.

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