How 14 Car Companies Got Their Names

Jeff J Mitchell, Getty Images
Jeff J Mitchell, Getty Images

Most of us probably don't put too much thought into our cars' names. Sure, we'll take the wheel of a Toyota or a Chevrolet, but how did those cars pick up their monikers? Let's take a look at a few that aren't quite as obvious as the Ford name.

1. Nissan

The company we now know as Nissan got its start in 1914 as DAT Motorcar. The "DAT" name came from the first initial of the three founders' family names. In 1931, DAT introduced a new small car they called the Datson, which later morphed into "Datsun."

Meanwhile, businessman Yoshisuke Aikawa founded an industrial holding company in 1928 and named his new venture Nippon Sangyo. (The name loosely translates into "Japan Industries.") Aikawa's company bought out DAT in 1931, and eventually the Nippon Sangyo name became abbreviated as Nissan.

Some drivers may remember cruising around in Datsuns before they ever got behind the wheel of a Nissan. What prompted the name change? Until the early 1980s, the Datsun badge appeared on the cars Nissan exported out of Japan. In 1981, though, Nissan execs announced that they were changing this practice in order to strengthen global awareness of the Nissan brand. Thus, you can't buy a Datsun Z anymore, but you can get the keys to a Nissan one.

2. Toyota

Toyota didn't start out as a car company. It wasn't called Toyota, either. In 1926, Sakichi Toyoda founded the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, a company that made looms, not cars. In 1933, Toyoda's son Kiichiro started a separate motors division, and the company's cars quickly took off.

How did the name get from "Toyoda" to "Toyota," though? In 1936, the company held a competition to design a new logo, and the winner consisted of the three Japanese characters that made up the Toyoda name. However, after giving it some thought, the Toyoda family decided that the slightly tweaked "Toyota" was stronger. Writing out "Toyoda" required nine brush strokes, whereas "Toyota" only required eight, a lucky number in Japan. Plus, the name just sounded better, so Toyoda became Toyota.

3. Chrysler

Walter Chrysler probably wasn't on anyone's short list of potential moguls when he was a young man. He spent much of his youth kicking around Texas as a railroad mechanic, and although the work wasn't glamorous, he developed quite a skill set as a machinist. In 1911, the gifted 36-year-old machinist became production chief for Buick, and by 1919 he was making millions of dollars a year as head of the company.

Chrysler eventually left Buick, and after a failed attempt to take over the Willys-Overland Motor Company, he uses some of his accumulated wealth to buy a controlling interest in the floundering Maxwell Motor Company. Chrysler's new company introduced a popular car called the Chrysler in 1924, and by the next year the Maxwell name had disappeared in favor of Chrysler.

4. Honda

Honda bears the name of its founder, Soichiro Honda. Honda was a precocious mechanic who started the Honda Motor Co. Ltd. in 1946 to build small motorcycles. Although the motorcycle business got off to a slow start, by the 1960s the business had become one of the world's largest manufacturers of bikes. In 1963, Honda introduced its first production automobile, the Honda T360 pickup truck.

5. Buick

Scottish immigrant David Dunbar Buick was an inventive fellow; before he ever got into the motors game, he created a more efficient way of manufacturing enameled cast-iron bathtubs. Buick began toying with engines during the 1890s, and after starting one failed engine company, he tried again with the Buick Manufacturing Company in 1902. Buick's cars were terrific -- his pioneering use of overhead valve technology made them tough to beat -- but he had trouble actually producing and delivering them on time. As a result he always needed to find new investors to advance him cash, and eventually his company was sold out from under him to General Motors founder William C. Durant.

In 1908, Durant gave Buick the heave-ho and a $100,000 severance check. Buick tried to parlay this money into a great fortune by investing in oil fields, but he didn't have any luck. When his attempts to get back into the car business in the 1920s floundered, he ended up working as an instructor at the Detroit School of Trades. That venture didn't go so well, either; the school demoted him to receptionist. When Buick died in 1929, he was flat broke.

6. Chevrolet

Remember how William Durant forced David Buick out of Buick's own company? Karma can be rough. In 1910, Durant's own creditors forced him out of his management role at the company he started, General Motors. Durant didn't stay down for long, though. He teamed with Swiss race car driver and mechanic Louis Chevrolet to start a new motor company in 1911. The pair named the company after Chevrolet, and legend has it that they developed a logo that resembled the Swiss cross of Chevrolet's homeland. (Other stories indicate that Durant copied the bowtie logo from a French hotel's wallpaper.)

The company quickly earned the pair quite a bit of loot. Durant suddenly had enough cash to regain control of General Motors, and in 1917 GM acquired Chevrolet. Louis Chevrolet didn't do quite as well, though. He sold his share of the company to Durant in 1914, and although his career had other highlights, including a 7th-place finish at the 1919 Indianapolis 500, he never enjoyed much financial success and eventually had to return to Chevy as a consultant.

7. Dodge

Brothers John and Horace Dodge were gifted machinists who began a Michigan bicycle company in the 1890s. Eventually they sold this business and began creating transmissions for Olds in 1902 and then Ford in 1903. However, they longed to create cars of their own, so in 1913 they left their lucrative supplier positions at Ford and started working on their own car designs. The brothers' cars were soon the second-hottest sellers in the country, and they were fabulously wealthy.

8. Mercedes

In 1897, Austrian entrepreneur Emil Jellinek began ordering Daimler cars that he could drive in some of Europe's quickly growing auto races. It took a few years, but by the dawn of the 20th century, Jellinek had a number of Daimlers that he adored driving. He often raced under an assumed name when driving these cars; he took on the name of his 12-year-old daughter Mercedes. In 1900, Jellinek worked out a deal with Daimler to order 36 new cars on the condition that the cars be called Mercedes. Daimler agreed, and the famed luxury brand name was born.

9. Volvo

The Swedish automaker's name is Latin for "I roll," a conjugation of the word volvere. The company got its start as part of the Swedish ball bearing company SKF, and after SKF trademarked the Volvo name in 1915, the company planned to put the "Volvo" name on most anything that rolled, from bears to bicycles to automobiles. The plan wasn't quick to get off the ground, though; thanks to World War I, Volvo didn't actually start its car business until 1926.

And a few quick ones:

10. Cadillac: Named for Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, the French explorer who founded Detroit in the early 18th century.

11. Saab: Abbreviation of "Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolag," which is Swedish for "Swedish Airplane, Limited."

12. Volkswagen: German for "people's car."

13. Lexus: Toyota went to its ad agency and an image-consulting firm when it needed a name for its luxury division. At first, they decided on "Alexis," but it gradually evolved into Lexus.

14. Mazda: According to Mazda's website, the brand's name is borrowed from the Zoroastrian religion. Ahura Mazda is the Zoroastrian "God of reason who granted wisdom and united man, nature and the other gods."

Take Advantage of Amazon's Early Black Friday Deals on Tech, Kitchen Appliances, and More

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Even though Black Friday is still a few days away, Amazon is offering early deals on kitchen appliances, tech, video games, and plenty more. We will keep updating this page as sales come in, but for now, here are the best Amazon Black Friday sales to check out.

Kitchen

Instant Pot/Amazon

- Instant Pot Duo Plus 9-in-115 Quart Electric Pressure Cooker; $90 (save $40) 

- Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Signature Sauteuse 3.5 Quarts; $180 (save $120)

- KitchenAid KSMSFTA Sifter with Scale Attachment; $95 (save $75) 

- Keurig K-Mini Coffee Maker; $60 (save $20)

- Cuisinart Bread Maker; $88 (save $97)

- Anova Culinary Sous Vide Precision Cooker; $139 (save $60)

- Aicook Juicer Machine; $35 (save $15)

- JoyJolt Double Wall Insulated Espresso Mugs - Set of Two; $14 (save $10) 

- Longzon Silicone Stretch Lids - Set of 14; $13 (save $14)

HadinEEon Milk Frother; $37 (save $33)

Home Appliances

Roomba/Amazon

- iRobot Roomba 675 Robot Vacuum with Wi-Fi Connectivity; $179 (save $101)

- Fairywill Electric Toothbrush with Four Brush Heads; $19 (save $9)

- ASAKUKI 500ml Premium Essential Oil Diffuser; $22 (save $4)

- Facebook Portal Smart Video Calling 10 inch Touch Screen Display with Alexa; $129 (save $50)

- Bissell air320 Smart Air Purifier with HEPA and Carbon Filters; $280 (save $50)

Oscillating Quiet Cooling Fan Tower; $59 (save $31) 

TaoTronics PTC 1500W Fast Quiet Heating Ceramic Tower; $55 (save $10)

Vitamix 068051 FoodCycler 2 Liter Capacity; $300 (save $100)

AmazonBasics 8-Sheet Home Office Shredder; $33 (save $7)

Ring Video Doorbell; $70 (save $30) 

Video games

Sony

- Marvel's Spider-Man: Game of The Year Edition for PlayStation 4; $20 (save $20)

- Marvel's Avengers; $27 (save $33)

- Minecraft Dungeons Hero Edition for Nintendo Switch; $20 (save $10)

- The Last of Us Part II for PlayStation 4; $30 (save $30)

- LEGO Harry Potter: Collection; $15 (save $15)

- Ghost of Tsushima; $40 (save $20)

BioShock: The Collection; $20 (save $30)

The Sims 4; $20 (save $20)

God of War for PlayStation 4; $10 (save $10)

Days Gone for PlayStation 4; $20 (save $6)

Luigi's Mansion 3 for Nintendo Switch; $40 (save $20)

Computers and tablets

Microsoft/Amazon

- Apple MacBook Air 13 inches with 256 GB; $899 (save $100)

- New Apple MacBook Pro 16 inches with 512 GB; $2149 (save $250) 

- Samsung Chromebook 4 Chrome OS 11.6 inches with 32 GB; $210 (save $20) 

- Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 with 13.5 inch Touch-Screen; $1200 (save $400)

- Lenovo ThinkPad T490 Laptop; $889 (save $111)

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Tablet (64GB); $120 (save $70)

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition Tablet (32 GB); $130 (save $70)

- Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8 inches with 32 GB; $100 (save $50)

Apple iPad Mini (64 GB); $379 (save $20)

- Apple iMac 27 inches with 256 GB; $1649 (save $150)

- Vankyo MatrixPad S2 Tablet; $120 (save $10)

Tech, gadgets, and TVs

Apple/Amazon

- Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS; $179 (save $20) 

- SAMSUNG 75-inch Class Crystal 4K Smart TV; $998 (save $200)

- Apple AirPods Pro; $169 (save $50)

- Nixplay 2K Smart Digital Picture Frame 9.7 Inch Silver; $238 (save $92)

- All-New Amazon Echo Dot with Clock and Alexa (4th Gen); $39 (save $21)

- MACTREM LED Ring Light 6" with Tripod Stand; $16 (save $3)

- Anker Soundcore Upgraded Bluetooth Speaker; $22 (save $8)

- Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote; $28 (save $12)

Canon EOS M50 Mirrorless Camera with EF-M 15-45mm Lens; $549 (save $100)

DR. J Professional HI-04 Mini Projector; $93 (save $37)

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

The 20 Most Valuable Companies in the World

The Apple store on Fifth Avenue in New York City.
The Apple store on Fifth Avenue in New York City.
Laurenz Heymann, Unsplash

It seems like the most valuable companies should be those whose products and services we use on a near-daily basis. And according to Forbes’s most recent list, they are: The top five highest-valued brands in the world are Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook.

The annual study is based on a complex mixture of metrics that cover revenue and earnings, tax rates, price-to-earnings ratios, and capital employed. Since the data is from 2017 to 2019, the list doesn’t reflect how the coronavirus pandemic has affected the companies in question. That said, it does reflect what many have long assumed: that Big Tech is running laps around all the other industries. The top five are all considered technology companies, as are four others in the top 20 (Samsung, Intel, Cisco, and Oracle). Other companies aren’t in the technology category, but they own lucrative offshoots that are. Disney, in seventh place with an estimated value of $61.3 billion, falls under the “leisure” umbrella—but Disney+ itself would likely be marked “technology.” (Netflix is.)

The list isn’t completely devoid of time-tested classics that don’t involve software or hardware. Coca-Cola edged out Disney by about $3 billion to take sixth place; Toyota placed 11th with a brand value of $41.5 billion; and McDonald’s just cracked the top 10 with $46.1 billion. Louis Vuitton, Nike, and Walmart all also made the top 20.

Just because a brand ranked high on this year’s list doesn’t necessarily mean it’s doing well (and vice versa). Facebook, for example, suffered a 21-percent decrease in brand value compared to Forbes’ 2019 list—the largest loss of all 200 companies included in the study. Netflix’s brand value, on the other hand, jumped a staggering 72 percent from 2019 to 2020. With an estimated $26.7 billion value, it still missed the top 20 by six spots.

See Forbes’s top 20 below, and check out the full list here.

  1. Apple // $241.2 billion
  1. Google // $207.5 billion
  1. Microsoft // $162.9 billion
  1. Amazon // $135.4 billion
  1. Facebook // $70.3 billion
  1. Coca-Cola // $64.4 billion
  1. Disney // $61.3 billion
  1. Samsung // $50.4 billion
  1. Louis Vuitton // $47.2 billion
  1. McDonald’s // $46.1 billion
  1. Toyota // $41.5 billion
  1. Intel // $39.5 billion
  1. Nike // $39.1 billion
  1. AT&T // $37.3 billion
  1. Cisco // $36 billion
  1. Oracle // $35.7 billion
  1. Verizon // $32.3 billion
  1. Visa // $31.8 billion
  1. Walmart // $29.5 billion
  1. GE // $29.5 billion

[h/t Forbes]