What's In A Car Name? For The Thunderbird, Try A New Suit

James Raia

thunderbirdOnce again the automotive channel on America Online has come up some unique content. This time, it’s a piece on the naming of cars. One prime example is cited at the beginning of the article. It details a contest won by designer Alden Giberson. In 1954, he proposed the name Thunderbird for a powerful new Ford product and won.Giberson was awarded a $95 suit and $42 pair of pants.

AOL reports a great new name for a car nowadays may cost a c manufacturer $50,000.

Those in the business of thinking up car names can earn $5,000 to $10,000 per letter — a hefty sum in any writing world.

Known as “naming consultants,” the current-day car namers of add a letter or two to proposed names like XT, XL or ZZ, into the deal.


“In their extreme form, the results can look like untidy snippets of mutant gene code or meaningless debris from some Martian game of Scrabble,” writes the AOL author.

Examples: Cadillac STS, the Pontiac G6, the Honda Civic Si Coupe, the BMW X3 SAV, Taurus X, Nissan Xterra.

It’s as though consumers “are going to go on vacation to outer space,” George Frazier, a partner at naming firm Idiom in San Francisco told AOL.

“If there’s a pattern, it’s to appeal to younger buyers. Xterra is clearly a part of the whole X Games phenomenon. If you go down the scale from cars to mountain bikes to snowboards and skateboards, the names get wackier and wackier.”

But there’s a far greater sin in car naming, as far as some experts are concerned.

Thunderbird, the creature responsible for wind and thunder in Native American mythology, seemed to imbue Ford’s sports car with animate qualities.

Giberson was very familiar with the myth, and it’s not hard to trace the exact bolt from the blue that led to the name: He had a coffee cup emblazoned with a Thunderbird constantly sitting on his drafting table.

Article Last Updated: November 20, 2023.

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