Everything, as it turns out.
It is easy to forget the new XYZ 2.0T – or whatever the alpha-numeric designation of the last transportation appliance you owned was. Who remembers the model number of their last microwave? Who even knows the model number of the microwave in their kitchen, right now?
After all, it’s just an appliance.
And so have cars become.
Not all, not yet. There are still a few – that are new – that have names. Not coincidentally, they are the only ones with personality – and thus deserving of the individuation that comes with naming a thing as opposed to categorizing it.
Mustang, for instance. Say that name and everyone knows what you mean – irrespective of the particular model. The same goes – well, went – for Beetle. Say that name and practically everyone has a story, a memory.
It is hard to remember where you parked your XYZ 2.0T – especially if it is painted appliance white. There are so many just like it. Probably why, at least in part, the push-button key fob was invented. Not so much to unlock your appliance but to help you find it, among all the others.
Naming cars was once a big deal, even though less attention was not infrequently paid to the naming than should have been. Even as regards some of the great names, in terms of the automotive Hall of Fame.
Nova, for instance.
That was the name of Chevy’s new (at the time) compact (mid-sized, by the standards of our time) economy car, which made its debut in 1962 and became as common a sight on American roads back in the ’70s and ’80s as XYZ 2.0Ts are on our roads, today. The problem arose when the Nova was exported to Spanish-speaking countries such as Mexico, because Nova sounds a lot like no va, which means (roughly) it doesn’t go.
Which, at least among the Novas I had any experience with, was perfectly accurate.
Then there was Banshee – a Pontiac that never made its debut, because GM higher-ups weren’t about to let Pontiac offer a two-seater with gull-wing doors that looked a lot like a Corvette take away any Corvette sales. So the Banshee was shelved, which avoided what would have been a big problem if anyone decided to look up the meaning of that name. It means harbinger of death in old Irish idiom.
Some names were just numbers. Z28, for instance. It had emotional mojo as much as Trans-Am, another name almost everyone remembers even though no Trans-Ams have been made in the last 20 years. Both worked because each was individual. Chevy never intended to use “Z28” as a car name. Rather, it was – originally – the ordering code that people in the high-performance know used to spec out a Camaro with an ensemble of road-racing equipment, which was what the original Z28 (in 1967) was all about. As word got out – and lots of orders were being placed – Z28 became a name rather than a number.
Trans-Am was a name that became a car.
One almost inevitably gets attached to things that have names, because by naming them they subtly become something more than just things. This is probably why people who raise animals for food generally don’t name them. It is easier to eat a thing than it is to eat Bessie.
Ahh, but therein lies a chicken-or-egg kind of question: do we get attached to them because they have names, or do we give them names because we’re attached to them?