When you were a kid in the playground, did you ever use “sos” as a way of apologising to your mates when you’d upset them but you weren’t really sorry? If you did, you’ll understand the name of my new winter smoker. It’s a 1995 Jaguar Sovereign 4.0 with a naff Northern Irish number, XJI5505 – or, with apt spacing, XJ IS SOS. It has therefore been christened the Apolojag.
I don’t name cars often. I name them primarily because certain members of my friends and family would otherwise name them for me, and then refer to them by their chosen names in conversation. If I name them myself and then refuse to tell people the names they have, my coevals are forced to refer to them as “The Rover”, “The Stag” and “The Montego”, for instance – avoiding confusion all round.
I have thus never had to endure the indignity of a Maestro named Felix for no explicable reason, nor have I ever had an unexpected Doris in my life. But this doesn’t always go to plan. My old SAAB 9000, given the suitably Scandinavian name of Agnetha to avoid a renaming ceremony, met with ridicule. “Agnetha doesn’t start with an S, so it can’t be a SAAB’s name. It’s called Sebastian.” Right…
I struggle to understand why some people feel the need to name every car that they have ever owned or encountered. A car, as much as it’s an emotional part of social history, is still an inanimate object. I’ve never met a house called Percy, nor have I met anyone whose shed was called Arthur. So why do we name our motors with an almost monotonous regularity?
The exceptions to my rule about not naming cars for myself are few and far between – and only happen when a name has been earned. Cashback, for instance – the £51 Rover I bought with a quid from my pocket and the cashback I had from a petrol station till. The Gaffer – my P6, so named because it looks like a stunt car from the Bill Maynard television series. The Knobvan – my Peugeot 305 van, so named because of the offcut of wood serving as the world’s least likely looking gearknob. The Apolojag, on behalf of the comedy plate and the fact it’s a tired old XJ. And in my seventeen car history, that’s it – none of the others have ever earned a name.
I raised the topic with my mate Lovejoy – so named because he’s a Volvo driving antiques dealer – and he reckons I’m onto something. “The only time I name a car is when it goes wrong – and all sorts of name emanate from my mouth! I can’t say I’m in favour of naming them really. If I did, I’d put little thought into it and make it mildly entertaining. Otherwise it’s just a bit weird”
It’s not that I have anything against it; I just don’t understand it. It’s not even cars alone – it’s vehicles in general. Boats and planes are often named, and we wouldn’t be so fond of anthropomorphic steam locomotive Thomas the Tank Engine if we didn’t give truth to the lie by naming real engines and trains. Perhaps we infer a sense of animism solely from their ability to convey us from destination to destination – but then again, nobody names their bicycle. So maybe not.
Some cars worm their way into our affections, they become our mates, our companions, our petrol-swilling buddies on the motoring journey of life. But we only give nicknames to the very best, the closest few. And they already have perfectly good names – the ones they left the factories with. Or their registration marks; names that they like us have had from birth. Experiences or amusing features are what give rise to human nicknames, and it should be the same with cars.
If you disagree, leave a comment and tell us why your pride and joy has a name.
This article was originally published by Hagerty Insurance on 20 Jan 2017