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License to Name

By Loren Stein

BITER STILL remembers the first car name we loved: Ferrari. We can't say Ferrari without purring; the word dreams up the image of a powerful jungle cat, all rippling muscles and smooth ride, agile and slightly dangerous. Just what a woman wants to climb on top of. Named for Enzo Ferrari, the car was one of many that were simply dubbed for the carmakers themselves.

Granted, not every car manufacturer comes equipped with an evocative, exotic-sounding Italian name. But here's the question: What's happened to car names, especially brand names? Why have they gone so terribly wrong? We bet that anyone who has ever climbed behind the wheel can reel off scores of car names that are laughably pathetic. Dodge Neon? Ford Probe? VW Golf? Can't automakers do any better than this?

Apparently not, says 22-year veteran corporate namer Naseem Javed, president of ABC Namebank International of New York and Toronto. "Vigor? Vibe? Who wants to buy a car named Vibe?" he asks incredulously. "Car companies are no longer developing any long-term icons or legends," he says. "They're short-term, quarter-to-quarter, hit-and-run names." To name well, you must create a sense of pride in the buyer's mind, as well as power and value, he says.

Biter didn't know this, being a hapless consumer (and worse yet, born and raised in L.A., car capital bar none, where we learned to drive before we could walk), but according to Javed, car-naming can be broken into four distinct eras. There's the flurry of maker surnames (Studebaker, Ford, Cadillac, Porsche), then a sudden burst of animal names --"the zoological garden," says Javed (Mustang, Impala, Falcon, Cougar et al.)--followed by the Age of Aquarius (Taurus, Capricorn, Gemini). Then a biggie kicked in: Japanese (and American) car names ending with an A: Ultima, Achieva, Maxima, Integra--the list is endless. "An A-virus infected the car industry," Javed explains.

Ever notice how every 4X4 or SUV is christened with a rugged Wild West Marlboro Man name (Yukon, Bronco, Wrangler, Cherokee, Montana)? Can't the car companies come up with one original idea, or is it just too scary to stand out from the crowd? "Copycatting has destroyed the finesse," Javed laments. "These names die out. No amount of advertising can save them."

Here's the irony: car companies select a name that sounds like everyone else's, then spend on average $50 million to $200 million to promote their car globally--trying to convince the world that their car is different from everybody else's. "Car manufacturers have completely dropped the ball," says Steve Manning, managing director of A Hundred Monkeys, a Sausalito-based naming firm. Manning blames the car companies' reliance on focus groups, which guarantee they never come up with unique or offbeat results.

"Focus groups are just death. You get the same old same old. You get vanilla," he says. "Do you think we could have focus-grouped Bob Dylan? You'd come out with Britney Spears." Adds Manning: "People don't want to be responsible for their decision, so they leave it up to 'science.' It's a cover-your-butt kind of thing."

The classic car names of days past would never make it through market testing today, says Manning. "The Corvette Stingray? They'd say it was a slow, ugly, dangerous fish. ... All they're doing now is competing for sterile, sanitized-for-your-protection names."

Of course, some concepts deserve to bite the dust. Take the 1955 Dodge La Femme. Marketed exclusively to women, it came in pink and white only and was stocked with a lipstick holder, matching handbag and other important survival equipment. It lasted two years.

Despite such noble experiments, "Job No. 1 is to differentiate yourself," Manning says. "Car companies need to drop the fear that they have to be an accepted member of the club."

Would the Ford Fiasco fly? That's the favorite name of Jay Jurisich, editorial director of A Hundred Monkeys. Other Jurisich gems: the Lincoln Posteria, for fat-bottomed people, and the Dodge Deforester.

Hmmm ... how about a fuel-efficient car called King Putt? Or Madagascar? And, for your consideration, Biter's own concoction (dreamed up while watching a very small car maneuver in heavy traffic), which would be marketed initially to disenfranchised Jews in Palm Beach, then New York and finally L.A.: the Pitzollah.


Computer Hacking On The Rise

An FBI survey published by the Associated Press last week found that most large corporations and government agencies have been attacked by computer hackers **HACKRZ RULE--HACKRZ USA YAH** but fail to report these incidents in order not to **YOU HAVE BEEN HACKED SURRENDER TO HACKRZ GENIUS** alarm their customers or stockholders.

The survey polled 503 American corporations, government agencies, **YOUR COMPUTER WILL SELF DESTRUCT IN 10 SECONDS ... 10 ... 9 ... ** financial and medical institutions, and universities. Ninety percent of respondents had detected breaches to their security systems in the past year **8 ... 7 ... **, but only 34 percent reported these findings to **6 ... ** authorities. Survey respondents **WE LOVE HACKRZ YAH. I HAVE YR CREDIT CARD NUMBER LOOZER** also estimated that they lost approximately $455 million as a result of computer crime, up $78 million from last year. The government is attempting to set up a system whereby companies can report these crimes directly to the FBI anonymously **4 ... 3 ... **. Mark Rasch, a former Justice Department computer crimes prosecutor, told reporters, "**1-1-1 U HAVE BEEN HACKED BY 3LIT3 H4X9R d00d 4EVER**#^%$^_________."

Celebrity Makeover


It's a difficult time to be a Catholic, and yet so many persist. Amid the scandals can be heard repeated calls to make over the church. Why not take advantage of modern public relations wisdom to restyle the tarnished priesthood? After all, in America, the path to forgiveness begins at the shopping mall. Or at Great America. We can't decide.

Yippee Kyrie

No icon evokes good old America more than that New World shepherd, the cowboy. Yep, the cowboy can be trusted to bring the herd home with no undue jokes about rump roast. Priests wanting to tame their flocks should sport the cowboy hat--in good-guy white, of course.

Ordained as Oprah

Today on Oprah: Catholic priests find that talk-show format works best for sermons, decide to open confessions to televised media. Remember your spirit!

Canine Canon

What could be cuter and more approachable than an adorable little puppy-dog priest? They lick your hand for the sacrament, and they come potty-trained so there won't be any nasty surprises in the vestibule.

Father Patriotic

His approval ratings are heaven-high, so Catholic priests could take a cue from our fearless leader, President Bush: change the white collar to red, white and blue, and start yakking on about the "axis of evil" (which, in the priests' case, means Baptists and journalists, of course).

I Saw You

You wanted me to see you as you rounded the corner in your little white car off of San Jose's South First Street. There you were, driving along with your fly open, with your hand fondling your "stick shift," casually but purposefully--like every average American male masturbates while driving along city streets. Ever think of the safety hazards? I mean, talk about multitasking! Maybe you should dial up the cell phone at the same time--hey, live a little! And what if I hadn't been an adult woman, but a young girl who had witnessed your display? But I don't think such considerations are of much concern to you. Your priority is the illicit thrill, the private--yet not so private--rule breaking. Grow up.

SEND us your anonymous rants, love notes, or diatribes about your co-workers, bosses, enemies, secret crushes, or any badly behaving citizen who gets your dander up. Send to: I SAW YOU, Metro, 550 South First, San Jose CA 95113, or .

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From the April 18-24, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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