by Sophie Kihm
October 2nd is National Name Your Car Day in the US. There’s no official data on car names, but surveys count Betsy, Sally, Lucy, Bertha, Bessie, Penny, Stella, Katie, Alice, Steve, Fred, and Herbie among the most popular names for cars.
These are old-fashioned names, many of them nicknames, and—with the exception of Alice, Lucy, and Stella—not names that are currently popular for babies. It seems to me that we name our cars similarly to how we name our dogs—mostly short, friendly names, some of them chosen for their so-uncool-it’s-cool quality (like Bertha, Fred, and Bessie), and others for their pop culture references (especially Herbie).
As with naming a dog, naming a car is a time when you can be more creative and adventurous in your choice of name. You may want to choose a name that exhibits your car’s appearance, character, or origin. Character is what I consider in particular when naming a car.
Growing up, my dad loved cars and would periodically bring home quirky old models for us to drive around town. I started naming them when I was twelve years old, when a dark green Defender showed up in our driveway.
My dad had never been prouder of any of his cars. It was his baby, and like a baby, it needed a name. He tasked me, his budding name expert pre-teen with the task. I was allowed to name the car whatever I wanted, but there was one rule—this car was akin to a vessel, and thus, it needed a female name.
I eventually settled on Helga. A sturdy and powerful name that conveyed the strength and intimidation of this beast of a car. Of course, Helga is not a stylish name in the slightest, but that wasn’t the point. The name needed to reflect her personality.
The name stuck, and so did my reputation as a car-namer. We amassed a fleet of cars as my siblings and I grew old enough to drive, and I named them all. The aged five-speed coupe was called Betty. The sleek black station wagon went by Nancy. The clunky, temperamental SUV was known as Gretchen.
When I named my own car at sixteen, I took care to choose a name that both fit my car—a dusty-blue sedan from the 1980s that ran on diesel and couldn’t go over 55mph—and that I loved. I wanted a name that spoke to her vintage style and unconventional nature, but one that had smartness and flair.
Her name was Agatha, a deeply historical name that still felt too fusty to give to a baby girl but was beginning to shed that image. Agatha was an up-and-comer with hipster appeal and sufficient quirk. It had also very recently been given the Wes Anderson seal of approval, as Saoirse Ronan’s character in The Grand Budapest Hotel. This combination of factors led me to believe that Agatha was the perfect name for my car—and so it was settled.
Agatha’s name indeed suited her well. And she was rarely referred to as anything else. My parents, friends, siblings, and grandparents all knew her by name and called her Agatha like it was the most natural thing in the world.
The week I left for college, my dad sold Agatha to a family who had a newly-sixteen-year-old daughter who needed a car to get to and from high school every day, just as I once did. I knew this was coming—I wouldn’t need a car going to college in the city, and besides, this one wasn’t capable of driving on the highway—but I was devastated nonetheless. I cried and begged my dad to keep her around for me, but no such luck. I eventually came to terms with the fact that I would never see my beloved car again. I said a tearful goodbye to her on a bright September morning, and as he prepared to drive her to her new home, I turned to my dad and said, “just make sure they call her Agatha.”
So what did you name your car? Tell us in the comments.
Sophie Kihm has been writing for Nameberry since 2015. She has contributed stories on the top middle names of 2019, the top baby names in each state, and the hottest nickname names of 2018. Sophie is Nameberry’s resident Name Guru to the Stars, where she suggests names for celebrity babies. She also manages the Nameberry Instagram and Pinterest. You can follow her personally on Instagram or Pinterest, or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sophie lives in Chicago.