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It’s an age-old debate: Is it cool to name your car or does it make you sound pompous? No one will call you tacky if your kids nicknamed the family minivan “Hank.” And when antihero icon James Dean painted “Little Bastard” on the back of his 1955 Porsche race car, the name was on brand. But your buddies will laugh behind your back if you insist they call your Toyota Camry “El Diablo.” As your friendly neighborhood automotive journalist, I’ll do my best to explain where this land of ridicule begins and ends.

Rule #1: It is cooler when someone else names your car for you

If you race out and buy a project car, then pick up your crew to show it off, and everyone agrees it’s a “rusty” you might just be stuck with that name. The harder you fight to change it to some race car name, the more they may insist. So hope that some kindhearted passenger hops in and comes up with a flattering name. Do note that if one friend gives it a name you don’t like, you don’t have to share it with everyone else.

A driver and a passenger sitting in a car during a road trip.
driver and passenger | David Emrich via Unsplash

My first car was a 1964 Dodge Dart coupe. For better or worse, it was dripping with personality (ranging from cool 60s styling to a horn that sometimes got stuck on). Throughout high school, we all debated whether the Dart even needed a name. Then in my first year of college, I picked up a friend and she said, “Your car is definitely a ‘Stella'” and the name stuck.

Rule #2: Your car’s name shouldn’t be a flex, even if your vehicle is

Whether you’re into muscle cars with rumbling V8s or lifted trucks on 35-inch tires, your vehicle can make you feel pretty cool. And honestly, that’s alright. It’s even more alright if you picked it out yourself or even work on it yourself. You can definitely take pride in having good taste.

But if no one else seems to see what you see in your sports car, giving it a badass race car name is a lame way to force them to. I loved my compact Mitsubishi Mighty Max pickup truck. It had 4WD a slight lift and did pretty well off road. But if I felt insecure around my friends in their heavy-duty Cummin-powered Dodges and renamed my compact truck “Big Rig,” I would have been the laughingstock of the town. And rightly so.

Lifted custom Chevrolet truck parked in the snow in front of trees.
Lifted truck | Drew Lindsley via Unsplash

Instead, I just told everyone truthfully that I loved my little truck. And when we all went off-roading together, I didn’t complain when I had to stop and wait for “Bruiser” and “Big Daddy” to catch up.

There’s nothing cooler than being able to laugh at yourself. So a slightly self-deprecating name will usually be better received by friends and family. Take, for example, the 917/20 race car Porsche brought to the 1971 24 hours of Le Mans: “The Pink Pig.” It may sound ridiculous. And honestly it was. But the result was a race car name that motorsports fans will never ever forget.

Rule #3: Your car’s name should be original

I don’t care if you drive a 1969 Dodge Charger, the “General Lee” is already taken. Love your new yellow Camaro? Sorry, it ain’t no “Bumblebee.” And that’s alright. It is something completely original. Take your time, get to know your car or truck, and the right unique name will come to you.

In a way, the name your car has will reflect on you. You could think of it like a trucker’s “call sign” which is a CB radio handle that is as much a combination name of the driver and rig as it is a vehicle nickname.

So don’t hesitate to nickname your beloved car or truck. Just remember to give it a unique name, don’t flex too hard, and be open to suggestions from others.

Next, see Donut Media’s take on why modern cars don’t have good model names:

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