20 01 2017

A matter of a pinion: What’s in a Name?

Why do we name our classics? Sam Skelton’s not sure.

When you were a kid in the playground, did you ever use "sos" as a way of apologising to your mates when you'd upset them but you weren't really sorry? If you did, you'll understand the name of my new winter smoker. It's a 1995 Jaguar Sovereign 4.0 with a naff Northern Irish number, XJI5505 - or, with apt spacing, XJ IS SOS. It has therefore been christened the Apolojag.

I don’t name cars often. I name them primarily because certain members of my friends and family would otherwise name them for me, and then refer to them by their chosen names in conversation. If I name them myself and then refuse to tell people the names they have, my coevals are forced to refer to them as “The Rover”, “The Stag” and “The Montego”, for instance – avoiding confusion all round.

I have thus never had to endure the indignity of a Maestro named Felix for no explicable reason, nor have I ever had an unexpected Doris in my life. But this doesn’t always go to plan. My old SAAB 9000, given the suitably Scandinavian name of Agnetha to avoid a renaming ceremony, met with ridicule. “Agnetha doesn’t start with an S, so it can’t be a SAAB’s name. It’s called Sebastian.” Right…

I struggle to understand why some people feel the need to name every car that they have ever owned or encountered. A car, as much as it’s an emotional part of social history, is still an inanimate object. I’ve never met a house called Percy, nor have I met anyone whose shed was called Arthur. So why do we name our motors with an almost monotonous regularity?

The exceptions to my rule about not naming cars for myself are few and far between – and only happen when a name has been earned. Cashback, for instance – the £51 Rover I bought with a quid from my pocket and the cashback I had from a petrol station till. The Gaffer – my P6, so named because it looks like a stunt car from the Bill Maynard television series. The Knobvan – my Peugeot 305 van, so named because of the offcut of wood serving as the world’s least likely looking gearknob. The Apolojag, on behalf of the comedy plate and the fact it’s a tired old XJ. And in my seventeen car history, that’s it – none of the others have ever earned a name.

I raised the topic with my mate Lovejoy – so named because he’s a Volvo driving antiques dealer – and he reckons I’m onto something. “The only time I name a car is when it goes wrong – and all sorts of names emanate from my mouth! I can't say I'm in favour of naming them really. If I did, I'd put little thought into it and make it mildly entertaining. Otherwise it's just a bit weird”

It’s not that I have anything against it; I just don’t understand it. It’s not even cars alone – it’s vehicles in general. Boats and planes are often named, and we wouldn’t be so fond of anthropomorphic steam locomotive Thomas the Tank Engine if we didn’t give truth to the lie by naming real engines and trains. Perhaps we infer a sense of animism solely from their ability to convey us from destination to destination – but then again, nobody names their bicycle. So maybe not.

Some cars worm their way into our affections, they become our mates, our companions, our petrol-swilling buddies on the motoring journey of life. But we only give nicknames to the very best, the closest few. And they already have perfectly good names – the ones they left the factories with. Or their registration marks; names that they like us have had from birth. Experiences or amusing features are what give rise to human nicknames, and it should be the same with cars.

If you disagree, leave a comment and tell us why your pride and joy has a name.

Join the Discussion

8 reader comments

  • 1
    Actuarius Darkest Sussex July 24, 2017 at 2:44pm
    I have always said every good car should be named and should start on a button (even before the reintroduction of these became fashionable). Both my cars, owned for some years now, were named after living with them for a while and even have their moniker written on the back. Fury is a V8 MG BGT which sounds glorious but, for 3 1/2 litres in a small car, isn't that fast. Therefore its from the Macbeth quote "...all sound and fury, signifying nothing." Banshee is a Vauxhall Chevette with a 2 litre twin cam and is so named because the back axle whines like one. Interestingly most friends, motoring or otherwise, do tend to refer to them by name as well.
  • 2
    Ellis Freeman Essex July 24, 2017 at 2:44pm
    I have a 1965 Lincoln continental convertible who's registration letters are ABH... So I call it ABE
  • 3
    Terry Price Kent July 24, 2017 at 2:44pm
    Ok, so we have an A35 called Steve, (leave you all to figure that out), an Impreza called Scooby - nothing original there, the CanAm is just that, which I think sounds as purposeful as it really is being a 5 litre V8 and a scimitar, which is simply referred to as Scim. Best mate Edwin calls his Aston Archie and every one of his classic tractors have a fitting name, there's David, Dex and even Timmy the Transit. Even our bikes got names - Harriet the Honda And Billy the Busa, so yes we do name vehicles as mad, (sad) as it seems. We know exactly and mostly affectionately what/who we are talking about. It's just a bit of fun after all.
  • 4
    Gerry Attrick S. Wales July 24, 2017 at 2:44pm
    I've only ever named one of my cars, a '53 Morgan + 4, fitted with a monumentally incontinent TR 2 motor. Nothing on the underside has ever rusted, liberal coatings of Castrol & Penrite's best wards off the worst our salted roads could throw at it. It's registration started with SLJ--- and thus was always known as "Sludge". However, a rebuild, colour change to Grey & Green and the fitting of a marginally less incontinent TR 4A motor resulted in it being rechristened "Limpopo" after Kipling's description of said river in the Elephant's Child stories, "Grey, Green & Greasy".
  • 5
    Gerry Attrick S. Wales July 24, 2017 at 2:44pm
    I've only ever named one of my cars, a '53 Morgan + 4, fitted with a monumentally incontinent TR 2 motor. Nothing on the underside has ever rusted, liberal coatings of Castrol & Penrite's best wards off the worst our salted roads could throw at it. It's registration started with SLJ--- and thus was always known as "Sludge". However, a rebuild, colour change to Grey & Green and the fitting of a marginally less incontinent TR 4A motor resulted in it being rechristened "Limpopo" after Kipling's description of said river in the Elephant's Child stories, "Grey, Green & Greasy".
  • 6
    Andrew Gill West Sussex July 24, 2017 at 2:44pm
    Virtually without exception, all the cars in our family are named, with only one or two exceptions namely my eldest daughters Honda box like thing and eldest sons Golf. But then he works with cars daily, so sees them differently to the rest. My Hillman Imp is called Stan, after Stan Laurel - simple but loveable. My van is Eric, for no particular reason. My MG zs 180 V6 is Maurice, as a nod to Morris Garages (MG), son in laws similar car is Mitch because of MCH in the reg number. Wife's MG ZR 160 Vvc is Felix. This being a name chose purely because it's her 6th car, starting with Adam. Geddit? Youngest daughters Honda coupe is Tommy. She originally wanted BMW Mini Cooper. Get that? Youngest sons was Ollie. I've had a George, a Norm and a Laughing Gravy has also featured. We find it easier to know which vehicle is being discussed somehow, just by naming them. I don't think it's at all weird !
  • 7
    Peter Jacobson Hull July 24, 2017 at 2:44pm
    I owned a 1959 frogeye from 1981 and sold it last year, (needed a classic with more than two seats) Most people I knew at the time called the sprite Kermit. Wanting to be different, and you will have to follow me on this one. Dennis Healey was a prominent politician of the time, given the reg was DAU it became Dennis Arthur Underwood. Still referred to as Dennis even though its been nearly a year since it was sold. Current car is a Singer Roadster with OKL reg letters I'm thinking Olly Keith Laughton, but its a work in progress.
  • 8
    Graeme Aldous East Cleveland July 24, 2017 at 2:44pm
    Our Series 1 Land-Rover is named 'Fido'... well, 'Rover' would be silly, wouldn't it?!