How Memories and Moments Inspire Car Names
July 12, 2022
4 minute read
From paint color to model to personality, a lot of factors go into naming your companion – your automotive companion, that is. Cars are machines, without personalities or souls. But if that’s true, why do so many drivers—56 percent of American car owners, according to a recent study—give their cars names?
For many Volkswagen enthusiasts, they are not just vehicles; they are artifacts woven into the fabric of their owner’s stories and families. It naturally makes sense that a name would be designated, given cars’ prominent role in our lives. But how has car naming become so central to car owners’ relationships with their four wheeled sidekick? And what does your car’s name say about you as a driver?
How Car Naming Became a Thing
Car naming is not a new phenomenon, and it didn’t begin with cars. In fact, the tradition of naming your inanimate means of transportation can be traced back to the ships that were named in ancient Babylonia as early as the 3rd millennium BC! By the time an MIT professor named his Model T Ford “Lizzie” in 1918, the conventional naming of cars was already a cultural norm, even inspiring an annual day of recognition – National Name Your Car Day on October 2.
Today, car naming isn’t simply about giving the vehicle a unique label of your choosing, but about cementing the deepening relationship between you and your car. Considering American drivers spend an average of 17,600 minutes behind the wheel each year, it won’t come as a surprise that people talk to their cars (13 times a week on average!) and begin attributing it with human traits or emotions. Sitting behind the wheel, it can often feel as though it’s the two of you in it together, on a joint mission. From celebrating the big moments in life, like bringing a child home for the first time, to the smaller everyday moments, like taking a wrong turn and ending up somewhere really cool—or really not—cars are there for it all.
Scrapbooks on Wheels
For Frank Espinoza, president of VW enthusiast club Rare Vintage Air, Volkswagen vehicles have always been closely intertwined with his life’s most defining moments: from his first memory of watching a Volkswagen Beetle drive by, to his first car—a 1958 Volkswagen Beetle—to driving his kids and grandkids. But it wasn’t until his granddaughter came along that he even thought to assign his cars with a name.
Espinoza recalls the moment his granddaughter, who was just beginning to talk, named his 1955 Volkswagen convertible beetle. “She was calling the car gray. ‘Gray, Gray, Gray!’ she would say, pointing at the car. And now for all of us, whenever we refer to the car, we say, ‘Hey, let’s take Gray for a ride’ or ‘let’s take Gray to the show.’” And later when Frank got a 1981 Volkswagen Vanagon, “the same granddaughter, I guess because of the shape—long and square—she was calling it ‘School Bus.’” And School Bus stuck.
For Espinoza’s family, and for families across the country, naming cars is less about the name itself and more about the story behind it. The inspiration can come from vehicles’ prominent features (color, shape, model), favorite movies and TV shows, celebrities or famous cars or –in many cases—in collaboration with family and friends. For some, naming a car is a big moment, while for others, it happens one day, out of the blue. Either way, once a car is named, it solidifies its place in your family and, over time, road trips, impromptu karaoke and even getting lost become core memories as your car becomes a physical reminder of an intangible moment in time.
What Car Names Say About You
Car naming has become so popular across the country that studies have investigated the common themes and trends behind cars and their given names. One study found that the most common names are different for men and women, however across the board, Betsy was the most popular car name. It also found that car names can be influenced by the region they’re in. For instance, the names “Spark and Steve” are quite popular in the northeast, while the south favors “Sally” while the Midwest prefers “Beast.”
Car naming is a fun way to express a vehicle’s personality, the factors that go into naming a car also offer insight into the personality of the driver. The choices car owners make on size, model and color can indicate individuals’ priorities and lifestyles. For instance, drivers in small cars tend to be more environmentally conscious, while owners of mid-size Sedans give off a more sensible and businesslike disposition. Bright colored cars, such as red and blue, are commonly associated with people who are energetic, ambitious and positive, while silver and gray cars are more common among individuals who don’t want to be flashy and are more practical.
At the end of the day, the names people give their cars offer a window into the memories that shape them, where they have been, and their personalities and priorities.