For the past 28 years, I’ve scribbled on topics ranging from the revolutionary Bubble-era Nissan Skyline GT-R and Honda NSXs to recent highlights such as the Toyota Mirai Hydrogen Fuel Cell Car. But what makes me frown more than anything in this country is the unique way the Japanese call their cars. Let’s face it, a lot of it is just funny.
Names like Odyssey and Land Cruiser and MX-5 translate perfectly into almost any language. But for the number of names that sound great and cross borders without incident, there are just as many names that will knock you out of your seat the moment they’re spoken.
So let’s take a look at the seven weirdest car names in Japan.
Ranking at No. 7 is the Mitsubishi Dingo. When I first heard the name, I thought they were joking. They were not. I can’t believe any of their marketing managers, the ones responsible for naming the cars, have heard that dingo refers to an Australian wild dog infamous for stealing a baby from a tent. What will they come up with next? The Mitsubishi Pitbull?
Number 6 is the Mazda Laputa. Mazda car name gurus thought it might be cute to name a small car after a fictional location – Laputa – in Gulliver’s travels by Jonathan Swift. But they haven’t explored what such a name might mean in other languages, like Spanish. Considering that Spanish is spoken by over 300 million people worldwide, making it the third most spoken language on the planet, could it seem a little ignorant to call a car which means ” a lady of the night ”?
This brings me to n ° 5. And the Mitsubishi Pajero? Seems fair. A well-known and robust 4WD SUV with rally credentials. Okay, but again, that name raises eyebrows in Spain as well. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say it has an overly sexual connotation. This is why the name Pajero was changed to Shogun in Europe.
Ranking at Number 4 is the Nissan Fuga, a sedan with a V-8 engine. In Japanese it means “elegance”, while in Italian it translates to “escape”, two perfectly reasonable descriptions for a luxury car. But in English, or at least to this writer, it sounds like an obscure stale mushroom. So if you say “I’m driving a Fuga” to a group of Italians or Japanese, that sounds awesome. On the other hand, to a gathering of native English speakers, well …
TO n ° 3 is one of my favorites, the Mitsubishi Legnum. For the company’s bean counters, Legnum had to look cool, although for my life I can’t imagine why. When you think about it in an English context, this term couldn’t be more inappropriate for a sporty wagon claiming to be a driver’s car. I mean, hey, drive too long and you get a numb leg, I mean a numb leg.
When I see such names, I feel like I’m watching a poorly dubbed martial arts movie. Remember those early Bruce Lee movies such as Fist of fury in which the actors’ mouths moved haphazardly as the English voiceover struggled to keep up.
This is how the vast majority of Japanese car names present themselves. A little weird. It’s like you’re in a parallel universe where all the rules of language have been thrown out the window and pretty much anything goes.
So why do the Japanese use English or Latin sounding words? The Japanese say they sound more exotic and culturally deeper than Japanese names, even though they don’t understand the real meaning of the word. They’re right, although I think the bottom line is this: The vast majority of Japanese people involved in naming products just don’t care what a name outside of Japan means. As long as it looks cool and captures the attention of target customers, that’s all that matters. The problem is, however, that a lot of words just don’t make sense.
TO No. 2 hang in there, parents, kick your kids out of the room on the Daihatsu Naked. It’s like calling a car “Zenra” which is the Japanese equivalent of nu. Take a look at the exterior of this tiny 660cc minivan, and you can see where that ‘gross’ name might have come from. The car appears to have lost its top layer of sheet metal. In his defense, he does look naked, but to call it that – well – only in Japan.
And at No. 1 must be the Bighorn Isuzu – onot a name that is not Spanish but that is almost guaranteed to generate instant laughs in any English speaking situation. Now out of production, its name speaks for itself.
Then of course there are a lot of other names like Note, That’s, Century, Life, Zest, Latte, Freed and President. Here we go again. Here I am back in this movie nicknamed Bruce Lee. Well, when in Rome …