How Did Toyota Get Its Name?

Toyota has a long and illustrious history. It’s the world’s biggest automaker — and has a strong lineup of popular vehicles, such as the RAV4 crossover SUV, Corolla compact car, and Tacoma midsize pickup truck. How did Toyota get its name? To find out, read more.

Toyota is named after the surname of its founder, Kiichiro Toyoda 

Lighted Toyota sign with dark clouds, highlighting how Toyota got its name
Toyota sign | Toru Hanai/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The origin of the Toyota name dates back many decades. Toyota is named after the surname of its founder, Kiichiro Toyoda. He founded the Japanese automotive company in 1937, and it has since grown to be the world’s largest car manufacturer — producing over 10 million vehicles per year. 

Toyota Motor Corporation was originally a spinoff of Toyota Industries, a machine maker founded by Sakichi Toyoda, Kiichiro’s father, in 1933. The two companies are now part of the massive Toyota Group.

Toyota changed its name from Toyoda

Blue and red Toyoda logo on Model AA, highlighting how Toyota changed name
Toyoda emblem on Model AA | Toyota

Initially, Toyota used the “Toyoda” name of its founder. Its first car, the Model AA, released in 1937, featured an emblem with the Toyoda moniker. However, the year prior to its official founding, the Japanese automaker ran a public relations competition to create a new logo. Along with the creation of a new emblem, this led to the “Toyota” name change.

There are a few reasons why the automaker changed its name from Toyoda to Toyota. For one, “Toyota” represents a voiceless consonant sound in Japanese language. This is a “clearer” sound than the voiced consonants in “Toyoda.” 

Another reason for the change is due to the auspicious nature of the name. There’s a practice called jikaku, or the number of strokes to write Japanese characters. Writing “Toyota” (トヨタ) requires eight strokes. And in Japanese traditional culture, eight strokes are believed to be connected to good fortune and prosperity. The name change also represented the expansion from a small company to a larger corporate conglomerate. 

Funnily enough, there was a bizarre incident in 2001 that harkened back to the original Toyoda name. In Florida, a waitress at Hooters in Florida sued the restaurant after getting tricked into thinking that she won a Toyota car for selling the most beer in a contest. When led blindfolded to a parking lot to see her new car, she was disappointed to see that the prize was just a little “toy Yoda,” the little green Jedi master from the Star Wars franchise. 

The Toyota moniker now represents quality and reliability 

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On a more practical level, the Toyota name now represents a high level of quality and reliability. Toyota routinely has the greatest number of vehicles with high reliability ratings, as well as the ones that last the longest. 

This reputation for quality and reliability has enabled the Japanese automaker to achieve incredible success. In 2008, Toyota surpassed General Motors as the largest automaker in the world.

Also, individual Toyota models are very successful. In 2021, the world’s best-selling vehicle was the RAV4 crossover SUV, followed by the Corolla compact car. Other highly popular Toyota models include the Camry midsize sedan, Tacoma midsize pickup truck, and Highlander midsize SUV.