Image: 1995 Chevrolet Lumina
Chevrolet
Chevrolet’s questionable name prompts the question: Aside from a car, exactly what is a “Lumina?”
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updated 1/5/2007 1:34:53 PM ET 2007-01-05T18:34:53

Go to a McDonald's in Paris and you will notice several cheeseburgers in the "Royal" line: the Royal Deluxe, Royal Cheese and Royal Bacon ("royal" means the same thing in French and English).

McDonald's France says on its Web site that the Royal Cheese wears a sesame-seed bun for a crown. "It looks, in fact, like a king," the site states.

Folks, it's just a cheeseburger.

The auto industry, like McDonald's France, tries to mask lowbrow items with highbrow names. Did any of Chrysler's customers believe that driving a Dodge Diplomat would make them more ambassadorial? Did any General Motors buyers think a Pontiac Parisienne would make them French?

But if we can criticize American automakers for putting hundred-dollar names on ten-dollar cars, so to speak, we must also applaud Japanese automakers, who tend to endow their Japan-only cars with such delightfully puzzling names as Honda Motor's Life Dunk.

But Americans dominate the lists of the best and worst car names, mostly because we can't fault certain European names for getting lost in translation. In gathering our ideas on the best, worst and weirdest car names, we thought it unfair to include European names that are difficult to read or pronounce (e.g., the FSO Warszawa) and others that have a common meaning in Europe that is obscure in the U.S., such as the Invicta Black Prince Wentworth. (At least we hope it makes more sense over there.)

Ideally, the best car names are the ones that have been around for a while and have been able to withstand the test of time. No, the Lamborghini Diablo is no longer in production, but we have included it because it sounds vicious and sexy. It gets your blood going, and it suits the car.

Alphanumeric names are not particularly memorable, meaning that with a piece of this nature, you can skip over everything in the current rosters of Acura, BMW, Jaguar, Volvo, Saleen, Hummer, Infiniti, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz. Notice a pattern there? The brands that give their cars numbers and letters for names tend to be upscale. (Some upscale manufacturers don't use alphanumeric names. Rolls-Royce and Bentley are famous for bestowing their cars with such poetic names as Silver Ghost and Azure.)

A name doesn't have to be edgy or dangerous-sounding to be great, however. Some of the best names, such as Ford Motor's Explorer, are utilitarian. At the time of its introduction, the Explorer was a radical new thing — and its functional name implied that you could take the vehicle off-road, a message that Ford wanted to communicate. The Dodge Ram is another practical name given that it is a work truck. Calling it the "Horse" might not have been optimal, but giving it an animal name that doubles as a violent verb was a good move (the Ram is also Dodge's logo). Similarly, the name Land Rover — and to a lesser extent, its larger, more expensive cousin, Range Rover — aptly conveys that vehicle's ability to go wherever it likes and handle virtually any terrain.

The car names we like best — where the names not only suit the cars' natures but also sound, for lack of a better word, "cool" — include such automotive legends as the AC Shelby Cobra, Chevrolet Corvette, DeSoto Firedome, Dodge Viper, Lamborghini Diablo, Plymouth Barracuda and Rolls-Royce Phantom.

There are other great names out there, but you get the idea. The best use for the list above is as a point of comparison against the bad names you are about to endure. The worst car names tend to fall into two categories. The first concerns made-up names such as the Oldsmobile Alero and Chevrolet Lumina. They sound like Latin, but they're not really words as far as we know. In fact, we may get letters telling us that a "Lumina" is a real thing, though we doubt it. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary has no record of such a word. The closest is the Latin word "lumen," which means "light." But what does light have to do with this Chevy sedan? Not much.

Then there are just inexplicable misspellings, such as the Chevrolet Luv truck. Ditto for the Pontiac Aztek.

Those car names that just don't make any sense to us include, among others, the Buick Reatta; Oldsmobile Achieva, Bravada, Firenza and Futuramic; Pontiac Astre and Fiero; and the Saturn Vue.

The other set of worst car names consists of those that seem to be calculated attempts to play upon consumer class-consciousness and social insecurities. These names conjure images of country clubs and glamorous lifestyles, yet, for the most part, are cars that were targeted at buyers of more modest means. We doubt any celebrities ever owned Chevrolet Celebrity station wagons, for example.

Among the other cars we include in this group are the Buick LeSabre; Chevrolet Greenbrier; Chrysler LeBaron; Dodge Coronet, Crestwood, Diplomat, Dynasty and St. Regis; Ford Aspire; Lincoln Versailles; Pontiac Executive; and Rambler Country Club.

The best part of researching this story, however, was the process of combing through the names of cars sold in Japan with odd English titles. There are a couple of European models on our list, but Japanese automakers are the true champions of putting out the wildest car names.

Among the ones that made us smile are the Daihatsu Motor Naked; Honda Life Dunk and That's; Isuzu GIGA 20 Light Dump and Mysterious Utility; Mazda Motor Bongo; Mitsubishi Delica Space Gear and Pistachio; Nissan Fairlady Z and Prairie Joy; Rickman Space Ranger; Rinspeed X-Dream; Suzuki Cappucino; Toyota Motor Deliboy and Toyopet; Volkswagen Thing and Volugrafo Bimbo. We think it's a shame that the Honda Life Dunk doesn't sell over here. Its goofy yet inspiring name would probably attract a fair number of buyers.

And what we wouldn't give to see a French dealership offering a Royal Honda Prince Life Dunk, or somesuch.

© 2012 Forbes.com

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