The Game of the Name

Imagine the scenario.You´ve spent two years developing a new bike with a team of dedicated colleagues.After painstaking development work, thew performance is terrific, the styling is perfect and the price just right to hit an eager customer demand.Then a week before launch, the chief of marketing decides to call it the „ Pansy “, and promptly kills the whole thing dead.

This may seem unlikely, but consider the Jawa „Dandy“ or the SYM „ Super Fancy “ which were clearly felt to be hip titles, or the name „ Jonathan “ which someone at Beta considered nicely apt for an otherwise cool cruiser. And it´s not just naff names which miss the mark. Some are simply inappropriate, such as with french trailbike manufacturer HRD which didn´t allow the absence of a canvas roof to prevent them calling ist latest model the „Cabriolet “.It gets worse.

Oriental companies in particular seem intent on exploiting the English language to the point of debasement in the quest for a „handle“. One regular offender is Kymco, which  proudly produces a scooter known as the „ Dink “, which sounds either like an insult, or the noise made when the exhaust drops off --- DINK!

Another model is called the „ Let´s “, the full meaning of which its sales manager was unable to clarify, while the suggestion that it might be short for „ Let´s... buy a Yamaha “ completely failed to amuse. No sense of humour, sales people.

At least the badge „ MVP “ tells us this is a „ Most Valuable Product “ , and not just an anonymous little plastic scooter as might otherwise be concluded.

The suitability of further names such as „ Manboy “ or „ Baby´s Zap “ are at best supect, and the „ Fox Hunt “ didn´t go down too well with conservationists. But even Kymco has recently excelled itself with the „ B&W “ which, as close inspection reveals, stands for „ Bet and Win “. Way to go, Kymco!

Choosing a name, either for a product or the whole company, is not an easy task.Virtually every serious contender is already registred to one company or another---often car manufacturers--- and although many are not in actual use, the right to that name, and most variations on it, are blocked. Another problem  is that of international misinterpretations, which can be embarrassing, as an innocent sounding name in one language can be highly offensive in another.Computers can be programmed to check for this, but sense of humour usually prevails, and Cagiva now find its Raptor has been renamed the „ Rupture “ in certain circles.

Most favoured model names fall into recognised categories, either reflecting some aspect of that model´s real character or merely being pretentious labels intended to excite.

Scooters and small commuters often carry short, catchy and energetic titles such as Zip, Jog or Fizz, while at the opposite extreme, luxury appears to require something more superior, such as Royale, Pride or Majesty. Aggression seems the order of the day for custom bikes and anything remotely sport, so there´s the obvious reference to warfare (Torpedo, Bullet and, controversially, Firestorm ) and plain anti-social behaviour (Dominator, Intruder, Rebel) mixed with imagery of freedom and non-conformism (Rebel, Drifter and Bandit).

There´s an obvious connection to racing in links with prestigious circuits (Le Mans, Monza, Daytona) but the majority of imagery goes for the animal world for strength, speed or aggression (Hawk, Tiger, Cobra, Scorpion ), or to extreme atmospheric conditions(Lightning, Cyclone, Tempest and Hurricane). Yamaha´s „Thundercat“ mixes the two for no adequately explained reason.

As a last resort, place names can be used to impose image over reality, such as Moto Guzzi´s „Florida“, „Nevada“ and „California“, all of which are, despite the pretence, 100 percent italian.

Of course, for companies which can´t be bothered to come up with snappy names, there are always TLA´s to fall back on--- Three Letter Abbrevations. Even here, dangers lurk.

We will never know if Honda fully considered the consequences of adding an „X“ to the updated Gold Wing SE. Yes, very funny, but on a Gold Wing? And it was a little disappointing to find Yamaha named one of my own designs, out of all possible permutations, the TDM. „Tedium“ is not a positive association for a large capacity, multi-purpose motorcycle, but for a company whose domestic advertising campaign boasted „Yamaha, the bike for windy people“ I guess it could have been worse.

From the late ´80s, abbrevations were considered the in-thing, so fun-sounding logos gratuitously appeared such as KART (Kwang Yang Active Riders´Terminal) or YESS (Yamaha Earthly Sports Staff), the exact meaning of which were never quite clear.

But in the race to string the most letters together, names became less memorable, and Yamaha´s XVZ 13 TD never had the ring that the single word „Venture“ had done a few years earlier.The Japanese also seemed unconvinced that just one “R“ sufficiently suggested a model had a racing pedigree, so they developed the „RR“ and finally the „RR-R“ just to ensure we got the point.

Top prize has to go to the Chinese though, as surely no-one can compete with the Tianjun K100W540-200, which sounds more like a parts number than a model name.

Just as with styling, names follow fashion, and manufacturers are anxious to show they are more up-to-date than their rivals. This can be the only sane reason to expalin the „ Honda @125“, suggesting that any link to computing, today´s top-growth industry and especially popular with the youngsters, is more important than making sense. Even so, Honda was beaten to the idea by Gilera with the equally pointless „H@K“. Clearly, thinking alike is not limited to great minds. But take comfort that the car driver has it worse, and smile whenever you pass a pensioner with a blue rinse driving a VW Golf „Bon Jovi“.

(Glynn Kerr, August 2000)