PERSPECTIVE: What’s in a Name?

PERSPECTIVE: What's in a Name?

“When you talk, you sound like Super Mario on our Nintendo game,” my children tease.

“Do I?”, “Yes. It’s funny.”

Doesn’t the Italian language and/or the Italian accent sound… unusual, to the Brits? Exotic, perhaps? Sexy, even?

No. According to my boys, I sound like a cartoon character racing in a plastic car. Yet I would like to think that, rude schoolboys apart, even ordering a pizza in Italian is to the foreign ear as melodious as whispering Dante’s verses about Paolo and Francesca’s tragic love story.

Italian car names, in particular, are phonetically charming, just like most of the models themselves. In fact, even Italian car designers’ names sound oddly exciting: take ‘Pininfarina’ (doesn’t that give you the idea of speed? Piniiiiiinfariiiina…Think of the fast Fiat Coupé of the early ‘90s), ‘Giugiaro’ (grippingly feline, like a 1960s’ De Tomaso Mangusta), and Zagato (angular and highly-strung, Alfa Romeo SZ-style).

More and more car names are a combination of seemingly random numbers and lettering, nowadays: the Hyundai i10, Honda CR-Z, BMW 320d, Peugeot RCZ – an unfortunate combination, that one – Audi’s A1 to A8 range… Acronyms are not as evocative as a full name.

Take the Ferrari Testarossa. Rather, taste it. The word roars inside your mouth and rolls off your tongue: think of those red-painted cam-covers gleaming from under the V12 engine. ‘Redhead’ somehow doesn’t really sound the same, does it?

A 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa, one of the world's most expensive cars wearing one of the most evocative names in motoring.

What about Alfa Romeo’s well known Quadrifoglio? Symbol of luck on the side of a race car, the Italian word carries an extra four-fold weight compared to the more humble ‘cloverleaf’ – ‘quad’, of course, meaning ‘4’.

Lancias of old borrow their names from the most important arteries in the Roman Empire network of roads: ‘via’ Appia, Aurelia, Flavia, Fulvia and Flaminia. All Latin names, which express spiritual, material, natural or colourful power (Fulvia, the redhead, Aurelia, the golden one, Flavia, the blond, Flaminia, the priestess). In truth, High Street, Station Road or Park Avenue may not have had the same kudos.

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Do you want to express compactness, in Italian?

Just add ‘etta’ or ‘ino’ to the original word, and hey presto, you have the racing Alfetta 158/9, ‘a small Alfa’ with its 1.5 supercharged engine, a true ‘voiturette’ compared to the contemporary Formula One 3-litre monsters.

Or you get a Ferrari ‘Dino’, short for Alfredino (small Alfred), Enzo Ferrari’s terminally sick son who died very young. A ‘Dino’ is a Ferrari with ‘small’ V6 and V8 engines.

Is there a need for a mass-market small sporty car? Enter the Giulietta, fast, affordable and pretty. Its badge would never have looked the same, had it been called… small Giulia. The Duetto’s musical fluidity would have been lost if its name had been ‘Little Two-Seater’.


Italian words may cloak humble, pedestrian concepts with the allure of something really special: “I’ll come to pick you up in my Quattroporte” will probably get your date more excited than if you admitted that you’ll turn up in a ‘four-door’ saloon. And imagine how worried she would be if you told her you are getting there in a ‘little boat’, which is what a ‘Barchetta’ is.

[blockquote type=”blockquote_quotes” align=”right”]’I’ll come to pick you up in my Quattroporte’ will probably get your date more excited than if you admitted that you’ll turn up in a ‘four-door’ saloon.[/blockquote]

Now imagine a car called… ‘cloud.’ Not particularly imaginative, is it? Now imagine a 1996 concept car which will never make it into production, but will always be remembered for its looks and technology beyond them (an aluminium spaceframe chassis to turn it into anything, from a sportscar to a stationwagon, keeping it economically viable even in small numbers).

The Alfa Nuvola was such a car. In fact, the name is a shortened version of ‘Nuvolari’, the famous racing driver Tazio of GP fame who drove Alfa Romeo P3s in the Thirties.

He also won the famous Sicilian ‘Targa Florio’ race in 1931 and 1932 with an Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 (Monza). Those are words of such glorious resonance that I named my second child, a boy, ‘Florio Tazio.’

Now a seven-year-old, I recently overheard him talking to another little boy, and proudly announcing: ‘Yes, I am called Florio, after the ‘TIGER Florio, a famous race.’

And then he thinks that my use of the Italian language and words is funny….

  • The Cowboy Online

    That Italians make the world’s sexiest cars, are home to the sexiest marques, and where the pronunciation – by Italians – sound sex, surely that’s not a coincidence. I’ll melt if an Italian lady says Lamborghini Murcielago.

  • Really incredible cars, Italians do it best.

  • Tmbg

    only italians has such a luxury in naming things…

  • Tmbg

    only italians has such a luxury in naming things…