As automakers pick future car names, the DeVille is in the DTS
Contemporary Maseratis are known for their arousing shapes, their redolent interiors, and their mellifluous Ferrari-sourced engines. What they are not known for is creative names. The four-door sedan is called the Quattroporte, which literally means "four doors," and the GT is called GranTurismo, which is what GT stands for. So when the trident brand began showing an SUV concept a few years back, we fully expected it to be named something like Sportutilitino. Instead, they rolled it out saddled with the oddball moniker Kubang, which not only sounds like something you'd experience at Sri Lankan massage parlor, but is almost impossible to pronounce without a terminal exclamation point. They've since changed the name to Levante, which, contrary to the vehicle's appearance, is not a contraction of Leviathan and Anteater.
Strangely enough, Maserati's generic appellations align with purported trends in the odd world of vehicular nomenclature, where the name should be good, but not too good, and memorable, but not overshadowing.
When Cadillac wanted to regain its squandered position as the standard of the world, one of their first steps was to privilege the name of the brand over that of particular models. "We found through research," said Cadillac's Global Marketing Director Jim Vurpillat, "that in the luxury space, it's all about the mother brand — it's about having a BMW, having a Mercedes — and less about the car name within the lineup." Because of this, Cadillac has done away with iconic lines like the Eldorado, and switched to a more innocuous system: ATS, CTS, XTS, and next year, the ELR for the Chevy Volt-based coupe.
How do automobile companies avoid designating disaster? A quick survey of the internet could probably have helped Buick determine that LaCrosse was Canadian slang for self-pleasure, and simply saying the name aloud in mixed company might have precluded Ford's use of the gynecological Probe. (No one has yet claimed credit for naming the Pontiac Aztek, what with all its other crimes.) But with individuals hiring consultants to name their baby, there is always the option to contract with an expert.
This tactic dates back to at least the 1950s when Ford employed it in creating an honorific for their new mid-priced vehicle line. "They did a lot of research to find a name for that car," Leslie Mark Kendall, Curator of Los Angeles's Petersen Automotive Museum, told us. "They even went so far as to engage a poet, Marianne Moore. She came up with some interesting names like Mongoose Civique, and Utopian Turtletop, as well as some not horrible ones like Altair Impeccable and Arc-en-Ciel." We rather wish they had gone with Mongoose Civique, as it has the advantage of not being synonymous with derision and abject failure like the one they eventually chose: Edsel.