What These 15+ World-Famous Car Brand Names Mean

This list of famous car brands will give you a good insight into the history behind their iconic names and how they became so popular.
Donovan Alexander

Curious how cars get their brand names? Today is your lucky day. 

Did you know that Aston Martin is derived from Aston Hill, where the founder lived?

Knowing the origins of car brands is quite fascinating and helps us understand why the particular title was given. This list of car brands and their origins will give you more insight into the culture and history of these companies.

1. Aston Martin

The name Aston Martin is derived partly from the name of its founder, Lionel Martin, and partly for a stretch of road in Hertfordshire, England, used for racing, called the Aston Hillclimb. 

World War I briefly halted production, and afterward Aston Martin produced cars specifically for the racetrack, focusing on speed more than luxury. However, building competition cars proved to be a strain on finances, and Aston Martin changed hands several times until World War II. In 1947, tractor manufacturer David Brown purchased the company, and models built under Brown's ownership also included his initials -- DB

2. Audi

German Engineer August Horch founded the company August Horch & Cie. Motorwagenwerke AG, in 1899. However, due to misunderstandings among partners, Horch left the company and formed a new company, August Horch Automobilwerke GmbH in 1909. 

But what to call the new company? The old company retained the name Horch (meaning "listen" or "hearken" in German) so he chose the Latin translation instead - Audiwerke.

Another interesting fact about Audi is its four-ringed logo. The four rings show the merger of four automobile companies in Saxony, Germany. These companies are Wanderer, Horch, DKW, and Audi which forms the Audi company we know today.

3. BMW

BMW started its operation in 1912 and was formed by the merger of three German companies.

The acronym BMW stands for Bayerische Motoren Werke GmnH, which roughly translates to Bavarian Engine Works Company. The name harks back to the company's origin in the German state of Bavaria. It also indicates BMW's original product range of engines for various applications.

4. Cadillac

Cadillac was named after the great French explorer Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac, who founded Detroit, Michigan in 1701.

Cadillac is one of the earliest car brands in the US. Founded in 1902, it is known for manufacturing luxury cars. However, the company was later taken over by General Motors in 1909.

5. Chevrolet

Chevrolet, also called Chevy, was founded in 1911 by Louis Chevrolet and William C Durant in Detroit, as the Chevrolet Motor Company. Louis Chevrolet was a Swiss race car driver and automotive engineer. Some people have speculated that when the company was founded, the name sounded foreign and exotic, adding a bit of flair and style to the brand. However, just seven years after its founding, Chevrolet became part of General Motors.

6. Datsun

Datsun is a Japanese company associated with the production of small and affordable cars.

The company began in 1911 as Kwaishinsha Jidosha Kojo, founded by M. Hashimoto. His dream was to produce cars uniquely suited to Japan. In 1914, he completed work on a small 2-cylinder 10-horsepower car, which he named  DAT, after the initial letters of the surnames of his three investors — K. Den, R. Aoyama, and M. Takeuchi.

Kwaishinsha later merged with the Jitsuyo Jidosha Co., Ltd. to form the Dat Jidosha Seizo Co. In 1931, the company developed a new passenger car which was more compact than the original DAT, so it was called Datson, as in "Son of DAT".  Unfortunately, in Japanese, the word "son" means "loss," so it was changed to "sun", which has more positive associations.

7. Ferrari

The luxury car brand Ferrari is named after its Italian founder, Enzo Ferrari, who was an official Alto race driver. In 1939, he quit racing to build his own company. Within one year, he built 1500 cm3 8-Cylinder 815 Spider, winning its first Grand Prix in 1947. In Italian, the word Ferrari is derived from the word "ferraro", meaning blacksmith.

8. Ford

Henry Ford founded the Ford Motors Company in 1903, in Detroit, Michigan.

Ford has left his first company Cadillac, and started his own car company with a $28,000 investment.

He perfected the mass production of cars by introducing moving assembly lines. This gave him the edge to cut the cost and offer an affordable car to the American middle class. His famous mass production car of 1908, Model T, sold more than millions over the next 20 years.

Later on, Ford made several acquisitions, including Volvo, Troller, and FPV brands.

9. Honda

As you probably guessed from the name, Honda was named after its founder, Soichiro Honda. Honda originally founded the manufacturer Tōkai Seiki in 1937, which produced piston rings for Toyota. During World War II, the company's plants were destroyed in a bombing raid and an earthquake.

Honda sold what was left of the company to Toyota and used the money to launch the Honda Technical Research Institute.

10. Mercedes

Mercedes-Benz traces its origins to Karl Benz, who created the first internal combustion engine used in a car, the Benz Patent Motorwagen, in 1886; and to the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG), founded by Gottlieb Daimler. DMG built the Mercedes brand and registered the name in 1902. It had originally been applied to an automobile model built by Wilhelm Maybach in 1900. The model contained a newly designed engine designated the "Daimler-Mercedes". 

The name Mercedes was also applied to another DMG vehicle, the Mercedes-Benz, created in 1926 after the merger of Benz & Cie. and DMG to form Daimler-Benz AG, also in 1926. The last name of Karl Benz was retained in the new brand, but for legal reasons, DMG couldn't use the name of their founder, Daimler, in the new name, and decided instead to use the name of their most popular model.

11. Nissan

In 1928, Yoshisuke Aikawa founded the holding company Nihon Sangyo, or Nihon Industries. The name 'Nissan' was an abbreviation used in the 1930s on the Tokyo Stock Exchange for Nihon Sangyo. The company included Tobata Casting and Hitachi. In 1933, Aikawa entered the automobile business, and the following year, he incorporated the automobile division as a new subsidiary, which he named Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.

12. Porsche

Porsche is named after its founder, Ferdinand Porsche, who started the company in 1931, in Stuttgart, Germany. The company also launched its first car model in Porsche 356. Today, Porsche is the majority shareholder in the Volkswagen family and the name Porsche is now synonymous with luxury.

13. Rolls-Royce

Automaker Henry Royce built his first motor car in 1904 and in May of that year met Charles Rolls, whose company sold quality cars in London. An agreement was reached that Royce Limited would manufacture a range of cars to be exclusively sold by CS Rolls & Co – the pair also agreed that the cars would have the name Rolls-Royce.

14. Toyota

Toyota Motor Corporation was founded in 1937 by the Toyoda family. In Japanese, the word "Toyoda" takes ten pen strokes to write, while the word "Toyota" uses only eight. As eight was considered a lucky number in Japanese culture, the company name was changed to "Toyota".

15. Volkswagen

On May 28, 1937, the government of Germany, which was then under the control of Adolf Hitler, formed a state-owned automobile company, which was originally called Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Deutschen Volkswagens mbH (Company for the Manufacture of the German Peoples Car). Later that year, it was renamed simply Volkswagenwerk, or "The People’s Car Company.”

16. Fiat

The Fiat car brand has an origin story that may be a little unexpected for some readers. FIAT was founded in 1899 by Giovanni Agnelli, an Italian businessman who was part of a group of investors looking to begin an automotive company. The name Fiat is an acronym, which originally stood for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, meaning loosely “Italian automobile factory of Turin,” the city where the company was based.

The word was also likely chosen because, in Latin, fiat means “let there be" — a fitting sentiment for a car manufacturing company.  

17. Mitsubishi

Mitsubishi officially started automobile operations in 1917, with the manufacturing of its Model A passenger car.

The name "Mitsubishi" refers to the company's three-diamond emblem. It is a combination of the Japanese words mitsu, meaning "three" and hishi, meaning "water chestnut". The Japanese also use the word Mitsubishi to denote a rhombus or diamond shape. Because, in Japanese, the "h" sound often becomes a "b" sound when it occurs in the middle of a word, the combination of mitsu and hishi is pronounced as Mitsubishi.

The logo, in the shape of three diamonds, or Mitsubishi, was chosen by the company's founder Yataro Iwasaki. The logo is reminiscent of the three-leaf crest of the Tosa Clan, Yataro's first employer, and also of the three stacked rhombuses of the Iwasaki family crest.

18. Mazda 

Mazda began in 1920 as a cork manufacturer under the name Toyo Kogyo Co., Ltd. In 1931, the company launched a tricycle truck called the “Mazda-go” — the first vehicle they manufactured.

The name Mazda is based on the name of the company's founder Jujiri Matsuda. But it was changed from Matsuda to Mazda after Ahura Mazda, the West Asian god of harmony, intelligence, and wisdom. It was hoped that the word Mazda would represent a symbol of the beginning of a combined Eastern and Western civilization, as well as be a symbol for the future success of the automotive business.

19. Tesla  

This one is a little more obvious. The car company was named in honor of Nikola Tesla, the legendary Serbian inventor, and engineer who developed the first modern alternating current motor. Perhaps the company hopes some of Tesla's brilliance would rub off on them. What do you think? 

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