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Flattering or not, car monikers catch on

| Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Motorists have long endowed their cars with human attributes, even going so far as to name them.

Of that, I am guilty.

Growing up, my brother and I named our family station wagon, a 1973 Chevrolet Caprice. Because it was a lovely '70s-era harvest gold, we called it Woodstock, after the yellow bird in the Peanuts comic strip. That the station wagon was grotesquely oversized and Woodstock was, at best, diminutive was a subtlety we overlooked.

Giving our cars nicknames is something that goes back decades.

When Henry Ford was producing the Model T, and its sales accounted for half of the cars sold in the U.S. market, car buyers referred to it as a Tin Lizzie. When it was replaced by the Model A in 1928, Tin Pan Alley songwriter Walter O'Keefe responded with the song “Henry's Made a Lady Out of Lizzie.”

OK, my brother never owned a Model T, or a Ford for that matter, but he still names his cars.

After getting a job with a General Motors IT supplier, he had the option of purchasing a Saab 9-3, a car he had always wanted, at the GM employee discount price. Once he did, he promptly named it Sven. When the silver Saab proved to be less than reliable, he opted for a Toyota Camry in an effort to break what he viewed as unreliable car karma.

Unfortunately, this humdrum sedan was painted an oddly fetching gray-green. Not knowing what to name it, he called me for ideas. Bad move on his part. I did indeed have the perfect name. From there on out, it was known as Booger, much to his chagrin.

But that was seven years ago. A few months back, he gave Booger the boot.

With his children grown, he finally yearned to own a coupe. He opted for a white Honda Accord with a tan interior. Totally in love, but once more stymied on what to name it, he nervously asked me for my advice.

“With my luck,” he said, “you'll suggest something totally lame like Snowball.”

I just laughed. Snowball it was.

He now blames me for suggesting this innocuous appellation. I counter that it wouldn't be a problem if he didn't name his cars.

Over the years, of course, he's tried to return the favor, but to little avail. After all, in an effort to thwart any retaliation by my brother, I already had names for them.

Thankfully, they weren't Junker, Heap, Nasty, Stinker or Rusty. But feel free to use them against your family members' cars, if appropriate. Whether you tell them is up to you.

When my parents bought a mammoth white Lincoln MKT crossover two years ago, the only name that seemed appropriate was Moby. I didn't tell them; it's best they not know.

In the meantime, if you're in the habit of naming your cars, and have a good story to tell, give me a call or drop me a line. I'd love to hear from you.

Larry Printz is automotive editor at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. He can be reached at larry.printz@pilotonline.com.

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