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The Washington Redskins NFL team has officially changed its name to the Washington Commanders. So what–if anything–should Jeep do about the Cherokee? What about Winnebago, the Volkswagen Touareg, and Indian Motorcycles? You may be surprised just how many cars are named after tribes. Some of these models are coming under fire as Native Americans ask automakers to reconsider their names.

Which cars are named after tribes?

The most obvious cars named after Native American tribes are Jeep’s Cherokee and Comanche. But don’t forget Chevrolet’s Apache, Pontiac’s Aztek, and the entire Winnebago brand. In addition, over a dozen more automakers use place names that were tribe names first.

Closeup of a Jeep Grand Cherokee limited badge on a car named after a tribe.
Jeep Grand Cherokee badge | Darren McCollester via Getty Images

What are the vehicles with names that may be borrowed from a tribe or lifted from places that in turn borrowed them from tribes? The Chevrolet Cheyenne, Dodge Dakota, Toyota Tacoma, and Volkswagen Taos. The big one here is Pontiac, which happens to be a town in Michigan–but in truth, the automaker was named after the tribe.

Pontiac certainly didn’t shy away from the native origins of its name. This automaker released the Pontiac Aztek, Pontiac Chieftan, Pontiac Star Chief, and Pontiac Super Chief. I mean, its logo is even an arrowhead.

A vehicle you might not instantly identify as having a Native American name is the Ford Thunderbird. The employee who submitted the name borrowed it from a legendary creature that tribes of the Southwest supposedly told stories about.

The most blatant name borrowing is the Indian motorcycle company. This brand also leans into its identity with models such as the “Chief,” “Scout,” and “Dark Horse.”

Automakers certainly haven’t limited their vehicle names to American tribes. The Nissan Qashqai is named after an ethnic group that lives in Iran and surrounding countries. The Volkswagen Touareg borrows its moniker from a desert-dwelling tribe from the Sahara. And the Renault Oroch’s name probably originates with a tribe in eastern Russia.

Should cars named after tribes change their names?

As with sports teams, this is a divisive issue. Some might say naming a car after a tribe is a sign of respect, but others call it cultural appropriation. Whatever your stance, it is clear that the pressure on corporations to change this practice is mounting.

Chief Hoskins of the Cherokee tribe has called upon Jeep to change the name of its popular SUV.
Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. of the Cherokee Nation |Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

In early 2021, Chuck Hoskin, Jr., the Cherokee Nation’s principal chief, called on Jeep to change its SUV’s name. He later explained his request to Car and Driver:

“I’m sure this comes from a place that is well-intended, but it does not honor us by having our name plastered on the side of a car…The best way to honor us is to learn about our sovereign government, our role in this country, our history, culture, and language and have meaningful dialogue with federally recognized tribes on cultural appropriateness.”

Stellantis said it was open to changing the name and had even opened talks with the Cherokee Nation. But several months later, the automaker announced that it would not be changing the Jeep Cherokee’s name.

What do you think?

Do you consider cars named after tribes an offensive form of cultural appropriation? Or do you think Jeep builds uniquely American cars and honors some of America’s earliest citizens with the name? Let us know in the comments section below.

Next, read about the Renault Oroch pickup, named after a nearly forgotten tribe, or learn all about the Cherokee Nation’s call to change the Jeep’s name in the video below:

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