How Did Elon Musk Get the Name Tesla? — It’s a Weird Story

Elon Musk — to put it mildly, is a controversial person. Lately, he has garnered a great deal of negative attention with his takeover of Twitter and the rise of hate speech and racism on the social media site. Also, seemingly every week, Musk gets into an online fight with someone. Given these recent negative events, it can be easy to forget how he rose to fame and earned most of his massive wealth: the founding of Tesla Motors, his electric car company. So, how did Elon Musk get the name Tesla for the EV automaker? It’s a weird story.

The strange story of how Elon Musk and Tesla got the rights to the EV automaker’s name

Elon Musk standing in front of a Model Y electric crossover SUV, highlighting how he got the name Tesla
Elon Musk and Tesla Model Y | Odd Anderson/AFP via Getty Images

Some people might think that Elon Musk came up with the name Tesla Motors for his electric car company, which was founded in 2003. The name is strongly associated not just with Musk — but also with the EV industry. While most other automakers offer electric vehicles, Tesla still dominates the market. 

However, the mercurial multi-billionaire didn’t come up with the Tesla name himself. Also, Musk and Tesla originally didn’t own the rights to the name. They had to go to unusual lengths to get it from someone that already owned the rights. 

Musk sent the ‘nicest guy’ at Tesla to charm the rights-holder into selling the name

As seen in the above YouTube short and detailed by Hot Cars, Elon Musk shared the surprising story of how he and Tesla Motors got the name. He starts by saying, “We didn’t actually come up with the name Tesla Motors. We didn’t own the name. A guy in Sacramento came up with the name and owned the name. We had to buy it off him for $75,000.”

While Musk earned most of his wealth from Tesla, in the early days of the EV automaker, he was already very wealthy from co-founding financial services company PayPal and later selling his stake. With this in mind, paying $75,000 should not have been an impediment to buying the rights to the name Tesla. 

Front angle view of red Tesla Model 3 EV, highlighting how Elon Musk got the name Tesla
Tesla Model 3 | Tesla

However, doing so proved to be quite a challenge, for the Sacramento man was initially hesitant to sell the rights. “He really didn’t want to sell us the name,” said Musk.

However, Musk utilized a unique charm offensive to convince the Sacramento man to change his mind: “I said to the nicest guy at the company to just sit on his doorstep and not leave until he agreed to sell it to us.” He continued, “The nicest, impossible to anger, nicest person.” 

The unusual strategy was successful: “So the guy said, ‘Fine, I’ll sell you the name.’” Musk and Tesla bought the rights to the name, and Tesla would help transform the automotive industry and kick off the EV era. 

The name Tesla is a tribute to Nikola Tesla, the Serbian-American inventor and electrical engineer

Tesla wasn’t just a cool-sounding name picked randomly. It’s a tribute to Nikola Tesla, the Serbian-American inventor and electrical engineer. Nikola Tesla had many inventions, but he’s best known for inventing the alternating current (AC) electricity supply system. Given Nikola Tesla’s importance to the development of modern electricity technology, Tesla Motors is a fitting name. 

A common question regarding Elon Musk and Nikola Tesla is, “Are they related?” However, no, they are not related. Tesla is not Musk’s great-great-grandfather. Musk just admired his work — and rightfully so. Tesla made a big impact on the world of electricity, despite sadly dying in poverty in 1943. However, now, Nikola Tesla’s name lives on, as Tesla Motors continues to lead the way for the electric car industry.